THE REAL DEAL – What I learnt at Cannes’ Festival of Creativity 2016

My inspiration from this year’s Festival of Creativity in Cannes came from experiencing people who were the Real Deal.

‘Real Deal’ness was heard in every word of Condé Nast Artistic Director Anna Wintour’s elegant presentation. Activist Cindy Gallop and legendary film director Oliver Stone physically embodied it, raging against the machine. Under Armour Founder and CEO Kevin Plank and Droga5’s David Droga are creating it in the Under Armour brand. Kate Stanners, Global Chief Creative Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi and Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative and CEO of Burberry, gently took listeners behind the scenes of being one. Tim Armstrong, CEO and Chairman of AOL Inc. shared how he leads with it.

We can learn from them, both from a personal point of view and as marketers.

Brands, like people, have to be the Real Deal to be great. As Kevin Plank put it, “Brand is everything. People instinctively recognise this passion, honesty and purpose. It’s compelling.” Or as Christopher Bailey described Anna Wintour: “Anna is never, ever half-hearted. It’s always personal.”

So here is my composite of Cannes-canniness.

  1. Everything counts
  • Anna Wintour talked about “using all your gold”. She suggests looking with fresh eyes at one’s processes and resources to find latent value that can be put to good use. For example, the length of time journalists take to research and develop a feature can be viewed as costly, however seen through her ‘using all your gold’ prism, it yields multiple stories offering a compelling run of articles leading to the final story. This shift helped Condé Nast titles embrace the immediacy of digital whilst increasing the value of their final print output across Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Vogue. Anna quoted David Remnick, New Yorker editor’s mission, of generating stories of “immediate interest but lasting significance.”
  • Under Armour’s philosophy is summed up with their #IWill hashtag Kevin shared how this sense of tenacity and commitment informs three behaviours encouraged in internal meetings –
  1. What did I hear? – Listen to each viewpoint.
  2. What do we think? – A point of view is required, seen through their brand lens.
  3. What are we going to do? – Make a choice, and decide actions.
  • Cindy Gallop, who set up Cannes’s Glass Lion Award and who had several high profile speaking turns at the Festival, did not stop there. She set Twitter alight picking up on the unconscious gender bias in The Case for Creativity, a book by James Hurman distributed to all Festivalgoers, which only quoted male creative and marketing expertise. Cindy also called out an awarded entry for its casual sexism; resulting in it being pulled from the festival.
  1. The value of sheer Bloody Mindedness
  • Each of them is driven by a mission and a belief system. This gives them certainty: the certainty to embrace uncertainty – an essential part of the creative process to get to something new. A clear mission offers a fixed end point, a long-term goal, which allows for flexibility and the necessary trial and error along the way. Sheer bloody mindedness keeps them on track. As Tim Armstrong said: “Success is messy. You need to cultivate the ability to live with it if you want creativity to flourish.”
  • Kevin Plank: “A brand is not a brand if it doesn’t have a point of view.” According to David Droga, founder of legendary creative shop Droga5, it is this belief that makes Under Armour such an exciting business to work with. It offers clarity, direction and the ability to make sure that everything from product to philanthropy comes from that single brand source. As Kevin put it bluntly: “We don’t do fluffy ad spots that don’t have a point of view.” Cue their Cannes Lions Film Craft Grand Prix this year for ‘Rule Yourself’ with swimmer Michael Phelps.
  • Oliver Stone demonstrated his belief in another way. When asked which were his favourite films, his response was: “Every single one. They all matter. Well, they matter to me.” Qualifying that with: “Hopefully audiences feel what I felt when I made them.”
  1. The case for Grand Ideas
  • Anna Wintour made the case for ideas: “of time and heft, fuelled by high ambition. Big challenging stuff matters. You can’t shortcut your way to creativity. Effort and attention pays off.”Our job in the creative industries is to dazzle our audiences – push them past where they’ve been. A perfect case in point was Vanity Fair breaking news with their cover story on Caitlyn Jenner – developed in secret over three months and written by contributing editor Buzz Bissinger, with a shoot by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.
  • Anna dared us to be different in the pursuit of grand ideas – like Amy Schumer redefining a more human and personal style of comedy; James Corden reinventing late night telly and harnessing Youtube with his quirky friendliness; Beyoncé creating a visual album with Lemonade (almost a feature film in itself.) These are people redefining the game, coming from a place of sincerity and creativity.I could hear Cindy chime in here on gender equality, “Women challenge the status quo, because they are never it”.
  • Tim Armstrong flipped the telescope on big ideas, talking about working “on a molecular level” – one individual to one message at a time, and sweating the little things in your business.
  • Kate Stanners described the need for shifting to ‘an altitude view’ as she progressed from department leader to agency leader. This helps her create an environment where grand ideas flourish, with a focus on both the work and the people: “My job is to work on the big stuff and the nasty stuff. And the good stuff? You are not big enough until you can give ideas and their attribution away.”

The Real Deal may sound unattainable, so I will end with a final quote from Kevin Plank, on Under Armour’s success: “I never thought it couldn’t happen. Why not us?”

Why not us, indeed?


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