Cannes Lions 2019: a diary by Sean Healy, Global CSO

Read about the daily trends from this year's Cannes Lions, brought to you by our Global CSO, Sean Healy.


I love Cannes. The weather is great, lots of old friends around but the real highlight is the Palais. It is like going back to university for all of the best learning you did all compressed into four days. It’s a mix of the inspiring stuff with the odd turkey thrown in for you to rage at.

For me Day 1 of Cannes, was a day that signalled change. In previous years there have been lots of talks on the coming of tech as an agent of change — but this year was a bit different and more human.

First up — structural change
The festival kicked off in a really interesting way with Creative Director of Publicis, Nick Law stating that creatives have lost control of the industry but rather than insisting that the answer was a return to the full-service agency, he followed a different direction.

In amongst many bold assertions and ideas he came up with the statement that ‘The business is killing the product and the product is killing the business.’ By this he meant that lots of decisions that are taken in the interests of efficiency are holding back creativity, but equally, creative culture is preventing ‘agencies’ from doing the best possible work.

He bemoaned the fact that creatives were still mistaking big ideas for 30 second TV ad-thinking pushed into other channels. His exhortation was for this to stop and for creatives to become more appreciative of context, media and formats. In short creatives don’t know enough about the platforms they’re using.

He rounded off by calling for media and creative collaboration rather than reintegration. A thoughtful start to the day delivered in a nice ranty-style.

Next up — a new cohort up for change
Quote of the day came from Myles Loften (a young US based photographer) who said “It’s hard to see a future if you don’t see yourself represented.” The differences between Gen Z and Millennials was a big thing for me on Day 1. They’re more ideological, and smart enough to understand the full potential of tech and its make or break capabilities. They get it and want to use it to break with convention in many areas.

I saw two sessions that were very different but dovetailed perfectly. First a big stage talk from Samsung who shared the outcome of research on Gen Z that had led to a couple of really interesting notions and brand language. Samsung was framing Gen Z as’ Dreamers with Purpose’. They are setting out to defy convention. They are up for working with brands, but those brands have to be purposeful. They are activist, tech-smart, with very different notions of identity and what doing the right thing looks like.

This generation are growing up with ‘fake news’, Trump and Brexit — and they’re fighting. Since 1945 broadly we’ve seen living standards rise, improving political rights and social welfare, whereas now, the newest cohort of adults can’t take this for granted and are also looking at urgent issues such as climate change. Smart brand owners such as Samsung are recognising that as governmental institutions fail to take a lead in these areas, brands have an increasing opportunity to collaborate with Gen Z. I loved the notion that Samsung were going to help Gen Z DEFY….

Judo Moments
I was introduced to this idea during a great presentation by Twitter’s, Alex Josephson and Contagious’, Katrina Dodd on ways to gain a greater share of culture by fostering more participation. They had a six-point plan for doing this, backed up with a sprinkling of data from Binet & Field and Byron Sharp. The Judo Moment was woven in there and refers to a point in time when you flip the momentum of negativity about your brand and turn it on its head (like a judo throw where you use the bulk of a heavier opponent against them).

Twitter and Contagious shared a range of daring, controversial and funny case studies from brands such as Wendy’s, Burger King and Crock-Pot that showed the benefits of teaming data scientists (find a relevant trend) and community manager/brand owner reacting quickly and using (often very risky) humour for cultural impact.

This talk really resonated against the backdrop of a sense that the structural rules of marketing are being rewritten in a Gen Z, D2C etc world.

Technology with a human face (literally)
Equally exciting/terrifying was Yumi — an AI operating system, developed by Soul Machine. These AI specialists focus on creating feedback loops between people and machines (in essence) making machines more human. Their verbal signals such as facial expressions are stimulated like humans with digital dopamine and oxytocin. It was mind blowing. Yumi is their prize creation, has a human face AND a job — it was another real signal of change.

Super-smart P&G skincare brand SK2 has employed Yumi as their first friendly-faced, digital advisor. A major step beyond a chatbot. She is a machine solving a very human problem. In the complex and intimidating world of skincare retail she has taken the role of digital advisor to people who need advice but don’t want to ask ‘dumb’ questions.

So that takes us from the future power-structure of the industry to the future of retail. Bring on Day 2.



So, there are always bucket loads of inspiring talks and presentations not to mention the brilliant work around on the walls of the Palais. But on occasion it is also possible to attend talks that are not so hot or reflect aspects of the creative industries that are less inspiring. Today was a day that captured both for me. Brilliantly inspiring presentations and then a few clichés being dished out.

A bright and early start
I was lucky enough to attend an early morning meeting between Dentsu and Facebook. I will spare you most of the discussion but zoom in on one the aspects of the partnership that is really inspiring. Thanks to the efforts of Facebook and the Amplifi GMP team, we saw lots of cases of great collaborations and the development of new products that are focusing on new ways to deliver effective creativity on the platform and beyond. What was particularly exciting is the work we are doing to help ‘hyper-growth’ businesses improve their asset base. Lots of learnings here to reapply.

Definitely Good Cannes.

The creative industries meet venture capitalism — creative capital
Cannes presentations by R/GA are always a highlight. Their work is really smart and is packaged up super-well. This year the story was their work to offer fledgling businesses not only a small amount of funding but also contacts from their client base and most importantly ‘creative capital’. Their multi-disciplinary teams are cracking problems for these young businesses through a smart process which includes figuring out the ‘altitude’ of the problem. Is it deep seated e.g. ‘you are in the wrong business’ or a reframing e.g. ‘ your virtual lock system doesn’t keep the wrong people out, it lets the right people in!’

Any way the thing that really struck me was their reference to turning short-termism on its head by redefining the meaning of KPI. From Key Performance Indicator they have developed Key Progress Indicators. More long-term.

Have we established a new revenue stream?

Have we brought in a new set of users?

Have we built a future for this brand?

We can all learn from this.

Definitely Good Cannes.

Superstar / humble design virtuoso Heatherwick was introduced by Richard Edelman of Edelman PR and producer of the Edelman Trust Barometer. After a few words of gloom from him we got a fantastic exploration of the principles and process that have powered the success of Heatherwick’s practice.

His core principle is that emotion should be seen as a key function of buildings and public spaces and how a place feels is key to whether it can bring people together. His mission is to make buildings that are not soulless and key aspects of his efforts to put humanity into buildings include: modifying not knocking down and creating ‘heart spaces’ at the centre of buildings.

We can learn from his process. Why would people who can get everything delivered to their home go to this space? What is the cliched solution people would expect from us? How could we do the opposite and then be even more ambitious? These are the sort of questions we can reapply to our work every day.

Lastly, he shared his point of view that what he is doing is the same as marketing. Telling stories and changing behaviour, but traditional marketing is short-termist and shallow in its approach. ‘Do something that won’t be gone in three months’ was his parting shot.

Definitely Good Cannes.

Talking about authenticity in an in-authentic way whilst hanging out with people from the music industry

This is still happening and I’m sorry to say I witnessed it.

If you say authentic more than 50 times during a 30 minute period, the chances are what you are talking about is not.

No names mentioned.

Bad Cannes.

Looking forward to Day 3.



Massive opportunity to geek-out on the work of the world’s smartest strategists. It is one of my favourite days of the year. It hasn’t let me down so far and coupled with going to bed before 2AM every night, is making me feel in top Cannes form.

The Future of Strategy is not outsourcing common sense
WARC always runs a seminar on this topic. This year it pivoted around the move to put experience at the heart of the model and what this means for strategy and strategic approaches. Three speakers offered up their view and the best by absolute miles was Harjot Singh, CSO of McCann, Europe. An incredible speaker and very funny, he hit us with the pithy maxim, ‘We will always be in the business of moving people.’ A great thing to remember. ‘If it doesn’t move people it won’t move the market.’ He kept them coming!

Here are his six rules to keep strategy powerful in the context of experience:

  1. We are in the era of meaning
  2. Data always needs context
  3. Be ready to work together in eclectic teams
  4. Innovation and creativity are not the same thing. Innovation is the application of creativity
  5. Tech should be like salt — tastable not visible
  6. Blur boundaries.

Oi the Attention Economy is our thing!
I stepped out from the ‘planathon’ at WARC to enjoy a brilliant presentation on delivering outstanding creativity in under 6s. This was delivered by Andrew Robertson of BBDO (famous ad man with good cars) and centred on how to succeed in a world of attention deficit and multiplying formats.

The brilliance of this presentation was not just the work he showed, which featured amazing snackable executions from the likes of Honda, Mars, Tide (amongst others), it was in his angle. He argues that print and outdoor have always had the under six second problem as people leaf through magazines or drive at speed down main roads. We have always had to find ways to attract attention super-quickly. If you want to make great creative for very limited times on small screens, start from static formats, a one second ad and build out to six seconds. Don’t fall into the trap of starting with 30 and cutting down. No more ‘cut downs’ but lots more ‘animations’ or ‘expansions’ please.

This was a great example of looking at a problem differently and creatively, and in a stroke of genius, flagged rules for poster and press copy that were written Jim Aitchison in ‘Cutting Edge Advertising’ in 1955. A great way for a ‘traditional’ agency to make its point.

Total inspiration from some of the ‘Dons’ of strategy
An outstanding and inspiring presentation from two of the world’s top strategic planners, Martin Weigel of W&K and Rob Campbell of R/GA. It was entitled ‘Your strategy needs more chaos’. They made the case that ‘we’ try to exert too much control and predictability on the process of coming up with ideas. Order is the enemy of originality and they want us to bring back more ‘Dangerous Ideas’. ‘Dangerous Ideas’ define the future, are bigger than ads and scare the establishment. Campbell shared Richard Branson’s brief for the new Virgin Airlines Lounge as ‘wanting to make people want to miss their plane.’ Dangerous thinking indeed.

They cited work from the Santa Fe Institute (they are found here) that shows that cities grow and thrive because they are ungovernable and chaotic whereas corporations stunt growth by applying too much governance.

They offered a series of exhortations for us to be rigorous about bringing more chaos into strategy. Here goes.

  1. Meet people and be interested in them
  2. Look at the culture around the category
  3. Prioritise resonance over relevance
  4. Play at the edges — where cultures, territories, tribes meet (in the natural world the most bio-diverse places)

Bang. More chaos please.

See you again tomorrow.



Thursday at Cannes tends to feature a lot of hungover people shuffling around in the heat regretting their actions. Today was no exception.

However, the high- quality work we saw on various stages around the Palais was enough to put a spring into the step of the most jaded ad woman or man

First up in-housing creativity
This was the most feisty thing I have seen at Cannes this year. Two creative agency leaders, Vick Maguire of Grey and Justin Billingsley of Publicis up against in-house creative leads Paulie Dery and Teresa Herd. There was a refreshingly frank sharing of views of the merits of what might be the next big in-housing wave. The debate was ‘being able to own a brand’ versus the value of diversity in thinking is solving problems for brands. One to watch folks and one to watch keenly given that Vick Maguire suggested that great agencies should resemble ‘highly functioning donkey sanctuaries’.

Anyone with a camera and an idea can find an audience
I really enjoyed a presentation from YouTube on new ways that cultural trends are emerging and the ways that we should identify them and build work that fits around them. Some of the gems that I took from these talks were:

1. Today’s 19 year olds have had access to You Tube since they were five — content is hardwired into their lives.

2. 75% of people think that trends move quicker than ever these days.

3. Jack Black has his own gaming channel with 2 M subscribers

4. In creative tests YouTube has proved that women respond better to coherent story lines told from a human point of view, whereas men will respond to no story line, lots of noise and loads of five-star reviews being flagged.

5. A little random but thought-provoking none the less. A last thought to share which is that Google / YouTube believe that for creativity, efficiency is the enemy and that you can be ‘relevant as hell but boring as. A great topic to bring up next time you are talking with them about the benefits of personalisation, programmatic marketing etc.

Some insights from sports marketing and stars on brand building
To conclude my random selection of items, I went to two really interesting talks on womens’ football, followed by the NFL. First off, Copa 90 hosted a discussion with women in football about the rise of the game, the current World Cup in France and what the future holds. The participants included Nuria Tarre, CMO of Manchester City and Chelcee Grimes footballer (Fulham Ladies), songwriter, singer and broadcaster. It was super-interesting to hear that women in the game feel the obligation to drive the game forwards before working on their ‘own’ brands and that Manchester City are using research to identify where new audiences might come from so they can systematically market to them. It feels like the opportunities coming from women’s football are going to be huge when you hear about the stories of struggle to be funded, supported etc. Lots of great opportunities for brands to now get involved to help tell their stories.

In contrast the NFL stars who then took to the stage next, come from a world of super-polished marketing where individual players are well versed in thinking of themselves as brands and are actively managing their own stories with the help of NFL Live Content Correspondents that help them to document their lives. What was striking was their long-term view of their brand story and goals as people which seems to contrast significantly with the increasingly short-term objectives of many ‘real’ brands today.

I will leave you with one last uplifting morsel that came from the Google presenters today.

The three most used phrases in Google Translate are:

1. How are you?

2. Thank you

3. I love you

There you go. Human stories from data.