Cannes 2021 will put the spotlight on purpose – PR Week

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by Sabrina Sanchez

Creatives share their predictions for this year’s winning work.

There will be no rosé and no yachts, but the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity kicks off virtually on Monday. 

After last year’s festival, typically held in the South of France, was canceled due to the pandemic, Cannes will be awarding honorees from 2020 and 2021 virtually this year. 

Cannes Lions is the pinnacle of the creative awards season. But the organization faced controversy recently over a lack of diversity in its learning program. 

Still, the awards are considered the most prestigious in the creative industry, and agencies line up to submit their best work. While creatives anticipate much of the work to focus COVID-19, many expect other themes to emerge, including purposeful marketing, tech and diversity. 

Campaign US asked a few creatives to share their predictions: 

Daniel Bonner, global chief creative officer, Wunderman Thompson 

The atomization of ‘doing good’ or good, everywhere!

The U.N.-inspired Sustainable Development Goals Lion arrived in 2018 as a category to celebrate creativity that is positively impacting the world. A much needed introduction back then, but I can believe that with some of the most fundamental human challenges we have faced in just three years since its inception, we are almost certainly about to see a rise in ‘doing good’ everywhere. 

I predict that at this year’s festival, we will celebrate work that helps communities prosper, that focuses on sustainable solutions, that reduces inequalities, serves to ease conflict and stimulates effective partnerships in all Lions. Brands will bring purpose to the forefront and to the mainstream of their messaging, demonstrating the difference they can make, rather than making the same claims differently.

Bas Korsten, global chief creative officer, Wunderman Thompson


I think that the pandemic has allowed us all to be super focused and spend an unevenly large amount of time on the craft side of our work. It was either that or picking up a new hobby. If you look at Bodyform’s Wombstories or LUX’s Born This Way’campaign, you feel the love, dedication and time that was spent on every frame. Details aren’t details. Something the pandemic has helped us remember.

Purpose with humor

Maybe not a dominant theme this year yet, but definitely emerging. People want hopeful work, not "sad piano" purpose work. Everyone is ready for brands creating purposeful work with a lighthearted touch (Volvo’s The Ultimate Safety Test) or work that has meaning and is just plain funny (Burger King’s Impossible Whopper). Let’s do more of that. We all need it.

Deep tech

It’s beautiful to see how more and more work is emerging from the holy trinity of technology, creativity and humanity. Creative people are looking at some serious innovative technology to create differences for brands. But more importantly, for the consumers they cater to. Think about Woojer’s Sick Beats Vest and how it helps kids deal with the effects of Cystic Fibrosis. Deep tech for a deep change in children’s lives.

Ed Horne, president, 160over90

Cannes Lions is coming at a good time. It has been nearly 16 months since we were universally assigned the same brief, a brief we never saw coming, and one that would challenge us all to create work that paid extra special attention to humanity and culture.

I predict three themes will shine throughout the festival as we emerge from the pandemic:


There is great ambition to bounce back in a big way. Brands are re-upping their campaigns, events and activations to re-engage their consumers. Our brand clients have a great appetite to guide their consumers to the normal joys of life and help connect one another in better, stronger ways.


Cannes Lions' gives us a time to reflect on what we have learned throughout this experience and how we will apply our open minds to the next 12 months. What's most important in perspective is ensuring we see and hear from underrepresented groups. This is not a box to check, but something that is critical to our everyday creativity.


Finally, a theme that our industry cannot press on enough: action. The key is to turn newfound perspectives and resiliency into real action and hold ourselves accountable. Then, by Cannes 2022, we are looking back at a year of truly making a difference in the work our industry creates.

Jon Wilkins, global managing director, Accenture Interactive Creative Council  

The global upheavals we have experienced provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way we do things for the better. As creatives, we are uniquely positioned to be part of that change. We’re seeing that in the work from the past two years: a focus on sustainability, inclusion and diversity, all of which are fundamental to our future.

As a judge for this year’s creative business transformation Lions, I’ve really had to hunker down, locked in a Zoom world – a totally new experience – immersing myself in some amazing work and working with judges I admire. I’m really feeling the power creativity has to make the biggest differences in companies. Not just the way these businesses function and how they offer their product or service, but also the way ideas inspire, improve people's lives and help the world become a better place.

True, experience-led creativity fuses ideas with technology, innovation and purpose at scale to improve people’s lives. It’s not a single campaign. It’s an idea that changes the way people think about or experience a category. It’s IKEA buying back furniture and reselling it  second-hand  to become a fully circular business. It’s Warner Music helping young people with speech sound disorders through music and technology. The best ideas, as we’ll increasingly see, will transcend immediate gratification to meaningful experiences that revolutionize our daily lives.

Mark Figliulo, founder and creative chairman, FIG

I’m expecting to hear a lot about creative effectiveness. The industry is begging for creative agencies to have a point of view about how breakthrough creative drives sales. We all know it does, but we just have to prove it.

I hope to hear some honest talk about the decline of big, long-term creative ideas that build brands. We have to break the short term performance marketing habit. We need to rebalance.

This might be the year that we admit that video is the best way to tell a story. Yes, we have to think of experiences, activations, stunts and social (who doesn’t love Fearless Girl?), but video is the strongest communication tool we have. Let’s not apologize for it.

I’m also expecting plenty of chatter about kicking the cookie habit and respecting consumer privacy. It’s a positive thing for our industry and it should trigger innovation.

Daniela Vojta, EVP, executive creative director, BBDO NY

Social and racial justice

We’re seeing lots of great ideas addressing injustice and empowering minorities. The best ones present formidable solutions, either through technology or by getting to the root of the problem and challenging norms and antiquated policies. Just raising awareness is not enough anymore. 

Devices and gaming hacks as media outlets

Twitch, Ring, Alexa are some of the examples of how creativity doesn’t take no for an answer. There are lots of irreverent fun ideas that blur the lines between advertising, entertainment and pure nosiness.

Ari Weiss, chief creative officer, DDB Worldwide

Cannes is a reflection of culture, storytelling, creative business solutions, craft and execution. As an industry we try to chase these trends, and that’s where we get into trouble. When it gets really exciting is when we reflect the trends; when we are a real-time reflection of culture and society. And we’ll see that in all the best work this year.

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