Handicapping this year's winners at Cannes

Experts put campaigns by Procter & Gamble, Mattel, McDonald's, Burger King, and Japanese cosmetics brand Shiseido on the list of favorites.

It’s one week before the champagne starts to flow and the beaches of Cannes are blanketed with bodies and sponsor tents. With the countdown on, agency presidents and past PR Lions jurors told PRWeek their predictions for the campaigns that could – and they hope will – win at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

At the 2015 edition of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, MSLGroup won the Cannes PR Lions Grand Prix for its work on the #LikeAGirl campaign for Procter & Gamble’s Always brand. The push turned expressions such as "throw like a girl" from put-downs to positive affirmations.

This year, industry leaders expect the winning campaigns to have strived to break down barriers or stereotypes or address societal concerns, while also driving customer awareness and sales for the brand. They cite possible contenders such as P&G’s ongoing Thank You, Mom campaign and Burger King’s McWhopper proposal to McDonald’s for International Day of Peace on September 21. Experts also predict winning campaigns will have lived across media types and on digital, social, and technology platforms, such as virtual reality applications.

Gail Heimann, president of Weber Shandwick, sees a number of worthy contenders. One on her radar is a campaign that challenges gender boundaries from Shiseido, a growing Japanese cosmetics brand that this week pledged to increase its marketing spend by $1 billion over the next three years.

The Shiseido campaign includes a short film posted on YouTube called High School Girl? It opens with a classroom of girls who are revealed to be boys when the video stops and rewinds the makeover process that "changed" their gender. The ad, created by Watts of Tokyo, has been viewed more than 9 million times since it was posted in October. Its tagline: "Everyone can be pretty."

"It’s terrific work and a really interesting exploration of what is pretty," says Heimann. "And when it comes to content-creation campaigns this year, I think we will see further exploration of gender. It’s a place where creatives are supporting brands."

High School Girl? was also singled out in a pool of Cannes contenders by The Gunn Report, an annual publication chronicling print and TV ads of the past year. If entered, Heimann says it could do well in a number of categories, including the one-year-old Glass Lion that recognizes work that defies gender bias and represents a shift towards more gender-aware communication.

"I am hoping we will see more work in this category that sets a new standard for [marketing around gender issues]," states Heimann.

Simon Shaw, chief creative officer at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and lead of its global center of creative strategy, has his eye on a few campaigns with strong PR elements that also challenge cultural stereotypes. He likes work promoting Mattel’s Barbie, including the Imagine the Possibilities campaign that strives to broaden the aspirations of young girls.

"It is incredibly clever because Barbie had been this traditional and very white, politically incorrect brand, but the campaign really turned the heritage of Barbie on its head by saying the possibilities are there for women – and those possibilities don’t preclude the Barbie brand," Shaw explains. "It was quite a brave stance...I am even undervaluing it when I say it is about challenging cultural stereotypes, because it is also has a point of view on political correctness."

Weber Shandwick and BBDO San Francisco entered their work for Barbie in the PR, Glass, and Titanium categories. Last year, Barbie launched dolls with three body shapes and seven skin tones fueled by a massive earned media component that generated a Time magazine cover, segments on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The View, and conversations on Twitter using the hashtag #TheDollEvolves.

Shaw also likes campaigns from Burger King and outdoors retailer REI, which closed its doors on Black Friday and invited consumers and staff to #OptOutside by enjoying the outdoors with friends and family instead of shopping.

"They made an incredibly powerful statement, because it obviously affects them commercially, as well," he says. "I think companies need to have a point of view and think about the legacy they want to leave with the world. And for REI,  it is, ‘You know what, we should spend more time outdoors; that is what the brand stands for, and that is why we’re closed on Black Friday.’ They made two statements by doing it."

Doing good and social purpose were big themes last year, but Shaw suspects jurors will heavily scrutinize entries built on causes in 2016. Having just judged the D&AD Awards, he noticed growing awareness among jury members that brands are "hijacking" causes and agendas rather than supporting them in an authentic way.

"A few years ago, we saw a lot of brands do stuff around gay rights, which is great to do, but then you ask yourself, ‘What does gay rights really have to do with a burger?’" Shaw asks. "I think that is why we have seen a shift from brands doing social good to highlighting cultural stereotypes with a real point of view connected to their brands. It will be interesting to see if that sentiment is reflected at Cannes."

However, Ketchum Europe CEO David Gallagher says marketers who took a stance on timely global issues could get traction at Cannes, noting, "Human-driven or social campaigns will do best, because juries can coalesce around them more quickly and they are more translatable."

"I think we will see a lot about refugees, because it is harder to imagine an issue bigger than that in Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa. And we may also see some quirky campaigns around the U.K. referendum on the E.U.; the timing will be very interesting given the vote will happen during the festival," adds Gallagher. "We may also see campaigns do well around racial and income inequality."

Paul Parton, who oversees the US business of the creative shop he cofounded, The Brooklyn Brothers, notes that the work that has turned heads at Cannes has a big idea and embeds itself into culture at some level. However, he says this year could be an exception.

"There doesn’t seem to be an Ice Bucket Challenge or Dove Real Beauty that I can think of in the past year on a massive scale," he says. "What does come to mind are fun campaigns outside classic product categories."

He cites social-media-driven campaigns for the films Deadpool and Zoolander 2. Cannes has two new categories this year: the Entertainment Lions, an evolution of the Branded Content and Entertainment Lions, and the Entertainment Lions for Music. Parton is also a fan of the Friends Furever campaign for Android, which features a video of unlikely animals playing together that became the most shared ad ever on social media, according to video ad tech shop Unruly.

"They could do really well because they all had nicely executed campaign across all sorts of media," says Parton. "Anything that comes across as too traditional is going to be seen as old-fashioned. It is not what people gravitate towards anymore. Generally speaking, for campaigns to do well, they have to be multiplatform and should probably have social, digital, and earned media extensions."

Looking at submissions from parent company Golin – it purchased The Brooklyn Brothers in February – he touts the work the Interpublic Group agency did to promote McDonald’s all-day breakfast launch. The effort included going through Twitter’s database and replying to every person who ever tweeted about wanting all-day breakfast at McDonald’s.

"That was very innovative. I expect that will do very well," says Parton.

Endangered Lions?
No Lions were awarded in the Media Relations category, and no Gold Lions were handed out in Crisis Communications and Issue Management, at the 2015 show. Submissions were also wanting in Internal Communications and Public Affairs.

‎Ogilvy Public Relations global CEO Stuart Smith, a member of the PR Lions jury last year, says, "Frankly, the entries in those categories were so few and poor that the jury just didn’t feel able to award." He is among those who are hopeful, but yet not counting on, better representation in those categories.

While many assume Crisis and Issues Management is a difficult category to enter because of client confidentiality, Smith says, "I don’t actually think that’s the reason."

"The kind of agencies doing great corporate, crisis, and issues management and public affairs are the kind that actually don’t understand why they should enter Cannes."

Smith adds that it’s up to the PR industry itself to better show off its work each year in the South of France.

"As an industry, we need to make more noise every year so that we show our very best, because there is creativity in public affairs and creativity in crisis and issues management. It is not creativity that Cannes is used to celebrating, but do we as an industry feel that the work we do in these areas is not creative?" he asks. "I would be surprised if anyone who led a successful public affairs campaign would say otherwise. These are the only kind of campaigns where advertising is the support rather than the center, and so we need to turn up in those categories."

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