Cannes Lions Takeaways: Creativity Hits Back and PR Earns Some Metal

At the 2024 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity PR finally broke through and received well-deserved award recognition. For the first time, a PR agency claimed sole credit for the PR category, with Golin winning the PR Lions Grand Prix for Idea Creation for their “Misheard Version” campaign for Specsavers.

Ogilvy PR also earned big accolades across multiple categories for its “Michael CeraVe” campaign—proving that PR agencies can compete within other categories, too, as most ideas start from an earned-first mindset.

It was refreshing to see how PR had a bigger seat at the Cannes Lions table; the role served by communications leaders continues to be elevated, as brands have much more to manage and anticipate beyond their actual business.

Following are a few of my overall observations (as an attendee), after having moderated several sessions with leaders across the marketing and communications industry, hailing from the likes of P&G, Reddit, UBER and NextDoor.

Creativity and the Creator Economy

Though concepts such as “data,” “digital,” “optimization” and “efficiency” have ruled the road at Cannes for several years, 2024 saw the energy recenter on the critical contribution that creativity plays in marketing. Up and down the Croisette, discussions buzzed with innovative ways companies are using AI to fuel creative acceleration. Metrics for measuring engagement impact were a hot topic, too, as marketers strive to find the perfect formula.

Notably, the creator economy came to Cannes in a bigger and better way. This year, we saw that creators were being more directly integrated into the spaces at Cannes in which Fortune 1000 CMOs learn and play. There was also more of a presence from celebrities and sports figures, such as Travis and Jason Kelce frequenting Sports Beach.

Key takeaway: The growing trend of agencies and creators becoming more integrated in the creative development process was palpable, with brands having the opportunity to benefit from their unique perspectives.

AI's True Test: Human Ingenuity, Not Just Efficiency

This year’s buzzword was AI. Brands and agencies alike are excited about testing new technologies and exploring how AI can impact both how they work and what they create. But as Cannes Lions celebrates human ingenuity by showcasing the industry's best work, we were also reminded that AI cannot replicate the magic touch of creativity.

The future of innovation lies in a powerful fusion: marrying human imagination with the capabilities of machine learning to produce wildly creative campaigns fueled by AI but brought to life by human understanding of emotions and connection.

A highlight was Accenture Song CEO David Droga’s discussion with OpenAI’s Mira Murati. The ad veteran discussed his access to OpenAI’s text-to-video tool, Sora, and how it’s already reshaping how he thinks about creativity. The session offered a glimpse at how Sora could be used to create and test ads in the future but also raised questions about trust, ethics and safety.

Key takeaway: We will all soon have access to the same tools, but real differentiation will come through human ingenuity and the power of inclusive teams that mirror the consumers who we want to reach. AI will increase opportunity, but we also need to better understand how AI will impact society, and put guardrails in place to mitigate misuse.

Inclusion Continues to be a Growth Opportunity

DEI remains the cornerstone of inclusive creativity, and brands cannot take their foot off the gas on putting DEI at the center of everything they do. An example: Inkwell Beach Cannes, which was created to bring DEI to the festival, shared stories of brands that champion DEI and diverse and inclusive decision-making, resulting in more inclusive campaigns and stronger business outcomes—from increased sales and stock price to stronger brand affinity.

Key takeaway: Inclusion is a growth opportunity—now more than ever—and amplifying cross-cultural stories are crucial in driving stakeholder connections.

Gen Z Has Arrived

Innovative brands are finding new ways to connect with audiences, particularly Gen Z. A recurrent theme was the younger generation’s ability to impact sales via social commerce, which was seen in the event’s programming as well as featured case studies. This audience isn’t sitting in front of their TV; they are influenced by their peers as well as social media.

On this topic, "Blackish" star and creator Yara Shahidi discussed the importance of tailoring creative projects to younger audiences while also discussing the challenges she faced behind the scenes. At Pinterest Beach, Gen Z attendees lined up for sustainable DIY projects (and tattoos), which catered directly to the company’s younger audience. Lastly, harnessing authenticity was a common thread during panels and sessions.

Key takeaway: Action speaks louder than words. Brands need to build long-term trust through open communications, particularly with Gen Z consumers. It’s not just about who a brand is but also how they communicate their authenticity in order to effectively capture an audience and stakeholder group.

Jennifer Risi is Founder and President of The Sway Effect.