Every year, the Future Lions competition asks students around the world to produce innovative ideas that will create the future. This year’s theme encourages students to ‘Start Something’, and for anyone seeking a head start, the judging council recently held a Hangout with students from Berghs School of Communication in Stockholm, and London’s School of Communication Arts. The judges answered questions from the students and from Twitter, and gave their thoughts on what it takes to get your idea onto the stage at Cannes.

April 2016

The challenge this year is: “connect people to an idea from a global brand in a way that wasn’t possible three years ago”, with competitors given free rein over the media and technologies they use to communicate their ideas. Such a tantalising brief provoked plenty of questions - here are a few highlights:

What makes an idea stand out?

The first question asked the judges to explain the quality they found most important when assessing competition entries. Anna-Louise Gladwell, Director of International Business Development at AKQA, immediately honed in on a characteristic that all the other judges agreed was paramount. “For me it would be demonstrating originality,” she said. “What we’re looking for are ideas that push the boundaries.”

“I think when you look back at the archive of winners, they all still stand out as strong, individual ideas, and they seem so fresh. So I definitely think originality,” agreed Steve Latham, Head of Talent and Training at Cannes Lions Festival.

Torsten Schuppe, Google’s Director of Brand and Consumer Marketing, EMEA, built on Anna-Louise’s answer by reminding entrants that while originality is important, ideas also need to be achievable with current resources and technology: “The theme this year is ‘Start Something’, and you can’t really start something if you can’t make it in the real world. So I think it’s really important that in addition to being original, you also have enough proof that your idea is actually do-able.”

Finally, Ian Wharton, Group Creative Director at AKQA sought to remind participants of the importance of context and engagement in deciding exactly how their idea will speak to its audience. “One of the most important words of the digital age is ‘engagement’ - how do we get people interacting with our products and services? We have the opportunity to either serve people meaningfully and serve brands meaningfully, or create irrecoverable intrusion. Only with a deep understanding of context and intent can we serve the brand and create a good idea.”

The Medium or the Message?

More than one question asked the judges to consider which was more important: the idea itself, or the presentation of the idea. On the subject of presentation, Ian Wharton reminded students that while there is no explicit requirement that entries should take the form of a film, in previous years slide-only presentations have not fared well. “I think it’s a unanimous agreement that film is the way to go,” he said.

“The critical thing is to choose the right medium, the right platform to ultimately land your core idea,” agreed Anna-Louise, before going on to give some valuable insight into the process the professionals at AKQA use to articulate their ideas. “There are three constructs we use at AKQA when we create case studies: insight, idea and impact. A film allows you to tell that narrative quite simply.”

However, on the subject of which was more important, the judges were of one mind. “Whenever you look at the winners that come out of Cannes Lions, it’s always about the idea. Yes, they’re supported by beautiful case films, but really it’s all about the big idea at the heart of it,” said Steve, summing up the panels thoughts.

Imagination vs. Reality

Future Lions asks students around the world to flex their imaginations and come up with ideas the judges have never encountered before, yet an inescapable reality of the industry is that an idea that can’t be built, won’t be built. When asked to comment on this dichotomy, the judges stressed that a key to success in the competition is being able to think like a professional.

“Hold yourselves accountable for the same things we that we are in the industry,” advised Ian Wharton. “Yes, we have to make irrational leaps of imagination to find a unique idea, but we are bound by some commercial realities. What your ideas need to have is the possibility of success.” But even while emphasising that the final idea must be achievable, Ian was keen to remind students not to restrict themselves during the idea generation stage. “Don’t let rationality police your creativity,” was his final advice on the subject.

Giving an insight into the shortlisting process, Anna-Louise Gladwell added: “the ideas need to be feasible and realistic. And with all of the shortlisted submissions, as a judging panel we’ll do some background checks to make sure that the idea could happen, that it’s feasible.”

Who is allowed to enter?

While the two schools participating in the hangout are both devoted to communication studies, a user on Twitter wanted to know if the competition is open to students from outside the creative disciplines.

On this subject, Ian Wharton was unequivocal. “Future Lions is open to students of all disciplines. You don’t need to be studying a creative course, in fact a recent winner was a law student and this individual is now working within the advertising and design industry. All we’re looking for are those who are willing to put their ideas into practice.”

If you’re ready to put your idea into practice, remember that the deadline for entries is April 6th, 2016 at 18:00 GMT. If you’re still looking for inspiration, why not check out the rest of the Hangout, where you can hear the judges’ thoughts on ad blocking, managing your portfolio, and whether it’s better in advertising (and life) to do good or to make money.