Cannes Lions 2016: Future Lions, Future Talent

Ian Wharton, John O’Keeffe, Chris McCarthy / June 2016

In the last of our Lightning Talks from Cannes Lions 2016, a panel of industry experts discussed the importance of new talent in re-energising advertising creativity, in front of an audience that included the winners of this year’s Future Lions competition.

Fittingly, the final Lightning Talk of this year’s festival took place with the winners of the 2016 Future Lions competition in the audience. On stage, Chris McCarthy, Head of Creative Strategy at The Zoo, Google, was joined by Ian Wharton, Group Creative Director of AKQA, and John O’Keeffe, Chief Creative Officer at WPP, for a wide-ranging conversation about the advertising industry’s hunger for new ideas and new talent.

As the sponsor of Future Lions, AKQA’s Ian Wharton says that, for him, the competition is the most exciting part of the festival. By celebrating the next generation, Future Lions both rewards competitors for their creativity, and reminds the whole industry of the need to keep one eye on the future. Now in its 11th year, Future Lions has awarded a total of 85 students from different disciplines and schools around the world. With over 1,900 entries from 69 countries, 2016 has been the most competitive year yet. The challenge set to these students has remained broadly the same since the competition’s inception, asking entrants to connect people to a brand in a way that wasn’t possible three years ago.

"The best work doesn’t happen by accident, it happens because there’s a committed creative agency and a committed client."

- John O’Keeffe, Chief Creative Officer, WPP

A common thread connecting this year’s winners is a desire to provide not just entertainment, emotion, or information, but genuine utility. Many of the entries delivered on this through use of cutting edge tech, which led John O’Keeffe to reflect on the role of data and technology in the creative process: “I always err towards the creative side of things, I always think, unless you’ve got a core idea, you can get people to engage for a day or two, and then it’s gone.” Giving his own perspective on the dichotomy, Ian Wharton agreed that there is a danger in becoming too beholden to data during the conception of an idea, saying that good ideas catch people off guard, and require leaps of imagination that can’t always be tied to historical trends. Both panelists agreed that sometimes data can be useful in the creative process, especially when the analysis produces the kinds of insight that bolster rather than hinder the imagination.

With the competition allowing entrants to choose any brand to represent, the Future Lions have not yet had the experience of handling client relationships. On the importance of having ‘warrior clients’, prepared to push for quality and stand up for good ideas, everyone on stage was in agreement. “The best work doesn’t happen by accident, it happens because there’s a committed creative agency and a committed client,” said John O’Keeffe, stressing the importance of bravery and acceptance of risk on both sides of the agency-client relationship.


For Ian Wharton, this naivety on the part of the competition entrants is one of their most exciting qualities, with participants having learned none of the received wisdom or best practice that can govern the creativity of industry veterans. Also critical to the students’ future success is their embrace of diverse skills, with one of the winners saying that their biggest hope for entering the industry is a chance to learn across a variety of departments and disciplines. After a period of increased specialisation in the industry, Ian sees this ambitious spirit as a very good thing, predicting that in the future, “people who are unwilling to explore their creative breadth will lose relevance quickly.”

Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2016