Cannes Lions 2016: Delivering Innovation - making ideas stand out in the age of abundance

June 2016

In the penultimate Lightning Talk from this year’s YouTube Beach at Cannes, a panel of creatives, technologists and strategists got together to discuss the problem of how to ‘make the work stick,’ in a world of abundant content and endless demands on our attention.

A strong theme that has emerged throughout Cannes Lions 2016, is that agencies are increasingly feeling pressure to innovate. Opening up the discussion, moderator Eric Tsytsylin, Director at WPP, asked the panel for an insight into where they see this pressure coming from.

According to Richard M. Guest, President, North America at Tribal Worldwide, “innovation is a big smushy word”, which applies in lots of different ways to lots of different parts of the advertising industry. However, what connects them all is the basic sense that innovation is desirable, that it makes products and companies inherently more attractive, both to consumers, and - almost as importantly - to potential employees. With a huge number of agencies, production houses and tech partners in the marketplace, capacity for innovation is seen as a key differentiator.

Speaking from his perspective as a technologist, Emad Tahtouh, Director of Applied Technology at Finch, sees a transition in the industry away from the shock-tactics of previous decades, towards techniques and storytelling approaches that surprise and delight. With tech entering a golden age as one of the world’s most lauded and admired industries, there’s a sense that everyone wants to be a part of it, with audiences hungry for experiences which seem to contain an element of magic.

Innovation isn’t easy, and many agencies are not configured to provide an end-to-end service that includes complex technical builds. Commenting on the need for agencies to move from being “branders to builders,” Richard M. Guest acknowledged the need to bring additional disciplines and specialisms in house, but cautioned that the process is a long one that involves a fundamental shift in mindset as agencies make the leap from ideation to execution.

“We’re in this golden age where everything that’s coming out has a magical glow around it… the public is hungry for it, they want to be amazed and they want to be wowed.”

Emad Tahtouh, Director of Applied Technology, Finch

There was agreement between the panel on the need to bring a wider range of talent into the industry, with Justin Graham, Chief Strategy Officer at M&C Saatchi Australasia, pointing out that the product management skillset is likely to be absent from all but the most forward-thinking businesses. For Justin, creative agencies should be looking beyond innovation for innovation’s sake, and should instead aspire to help advertisers solve genuine problems - citing last year's multi-award winning campaign, Clever Buoy, as an example. Several years in the making, this project required input from regulators and governmental agencies, as well as collaboration between M&C Saatchi Australia and their client Optus - showing the kind of long-term commitment required to bring truly innovative work to fruition.

Although the conversation covered many areas where creative agencies have the potential to develop, towards the end of the session, Eric Tsytsylin turned the panel’s attention to the other variable in the innovation conundrum - the client. The panelists all agreed that greater openness from clients was necessary, not just in terms of briefs, but in their attitudes to intellectual property and charging models. Emad Tahtouh was particularly uncompromising on the subject of intellectual property, insisting that creative agencies and production houses must retain their IP, or else lose the opportunity to learn from and build upon previous projects.

The panel were then asked to explain how they measure their success as innovators, especially when an openness to failure is so crucial to successful innovation. For Justin Graham the metric is simple - if you’re not moving forward at the same speed as the consumer, you’re probably failing. The other panelists agreed, citing the usefulness of internal ‘labs’, which are given the freedom to prototype and fail, and then spread their learnings throughout the rest of the business. Talent attraction was also given as another useful metric, with Emad Tahtouh saying he judges the success of Finch’s work by how many talented people cold-call him wanting to work there.

Finally, a question posed from the audience asked how it’s possible to know whether an idea is good when you’re in the midst of working on it. From various examples, good and bad, a clear message emerged: to innovate and produce great work, you have to start with ‘why’ - why is this the right approach for the user; why is it going to be of interest; why is it going to be of value?

The Update: How Google is handling the shift to virtual events