This year, one of our Senior Creatives Doug Stewart attended the Cannes Lions Festival after receiving a ‘Young Lions’ pass for his outstanding efforts this past year. Here he shares some of his key highlights, learnings and takeaways from the event.

“I feel like I’m sat in a Swedish talk show set, listening to a didgeridoo,” shouts Conan O’Brien as he addresses his co-panelist Shaquille O’Neal’s echoey microphone on stage at Cannes Lions. I could identify a bit with what Conan was saying at that point. Not the vocal comparison between Shaq and an Australian instrument, but how weird this environment was. Cannes is a pretty crazy place.

When I was offered the opportunity to go to the festival this year, I was buzzing. Mainly, because the free festival pass we had been offered was a ‘Young Lions’ pass, which means by industry standards, I am still considered young. But also because I'd heard crazy stories about the gigantic bottles of wine, parties on cathedral-sized yachts, and never-ending canapés.

Naturally, I passed on all the rosé-tinted boat parties and dutifully went to loads of the talks instead. There’s always about 10 great talks on at once, and choosing between them was a nightmare. The range this year was impressive, and some recurring themes were the rise of AI, industry diversity, and trust issues between brands and consumers.

A big shout-out must go to our team from London, Mobbie Nazir and Ray Murphy, for their brilliant discussion on the importance of brands having a voice against hate speech and the backlash on social media.

It was a sentiment that was echoed in Richard Edelman’s discussion with Kirsty Wark and Ellen Pompeo, on the importance of brands developing trust with authentic connections with their consumers, via social and their influencers. “You are never going to keep everyone happy. But you have to act. Don’t dither. And act with certainty” said Edelman. They must be transparent, because thanks to hate speech, fake news and privacy violations, no one trusts brands anymore.

I then went to a panel on the potential future for marketing in eSports. It’s a global phenomenon that is exploding (38% growth year on year) and it was a great insight into a developing new world for advertising; and to start to see the countless new ways for brands to get involved in the journey.

I also went to a talk between Burger King and the agency DAVID on the rise of ‘Hackvertising'. They delivered a five-step guide on how to use a hacker’s mentality in advertising. It was a case-study led narrative, showing all their innovative approaches to advertising Burger King by flipping conventional approaches. It was brilliant.

I was surprised at how dominant the presence was from all the big tech companies. John Hegarty at Cannes this year said “I keep hearing conversations about platforms — I don’t need to catch a train” and to me the festival felt like a massive platform for platforms. Spotify, Facebook and Google all had their own exclusive beaches, and hosted talks and live performances from artists like Jorja Smith and IAMDDB.

YouTube had a heavy presence, and used one of their talks to launch the exciting new YouTube Music. Annie Mac was speaking to Lyor Cohen (YouTube’s Global Head of Music) and addressed the new platform to a captivated / hungover crowd.
YouTube has always been a cultural catalyst for music, but they spoke about how this new platform has the potential to change listening culture even further.

There were some big takeaways from some of the award winners this year, and unlike previous years there was no big clean sweep campaign. The ocean plastic epidemic was a noted theme, with two Grand Prix given to campaigns raising awareness in that area. I loved seeing more tactile and well-crafted ads getting praise this year, with Spike Jonze’s ace ad for Apple Home netting itself a Grand Prix too.

The panel on the social category this year said they were looking for a very particular thing: work that had the ability to shape and shift cultures. This felt like a positive human focus to me, and felt real in a festival aware of alienation between brands and people.

The jury lead Mark D’arcy praised the winning campaigns in the category as being “designed from the culture up, not a film down” and as I left Cannes on the Friday morning thinking about learnings from the week, I think that’s the one that stuck with me the most. Great words to live by, and a sentiment that’s very true to what we do here at We Are Social, as we push to create powerful work that shapes culture through social.