Handicapping Cannes 2017: Experts bet big on Fearless Girl, Meet Graham

Industry experts say Cannes Lions judges will reward PR campaigns that solve problems or have social justice themes.

The winners at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity will be campaigns that solve social problems or take on injustices that an international jury can appreciate, say agency veterans.

Pushes that focus on gender equality are set to score big at this year’s edition of the Cannes Lions, notes Weber Shandwick president Gail Heimann.

"I think we will see work in [the Glass Lions] category and beyond on gender equality that moves to challenge stereotypes," she predicts.

A heavy favorite is the Fearless Girl statue, conceived by McCann New York and sculptor Kristen Visbal for State Street Global Advisors. The statue of a little girl defiantly staring down the Charging Bull on Wall Street, which appeared on March’s International Women’s Day, has driven awareness and conversation about female empowerment—not to mention $7.4 million in publicity for State Street.

Betsy Quinn, partner and global awards director at Ketchum, predicts Fearless Girl will win in the Glass Lions, the category created in 2015 by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her organization Lean In to recognize the best marketing campaigns addressing gender equality. Heimann says the State Street campaign will win because of the simplicity and elegance of its idea.  

"The way you can use a captivating little girl to take on the patriarchy that exists in the finance world is such an immediately visual and visceral juxtaposition," she explains.

Another favorite for Cannes Lions hardware is Meet Graham, a road-safety campaign for the Transport Accident Commission of Victoria from Australian agency Clemenger BBDO, depicting a human redesigned to withstand car crashes. The push resulted in school curriculum being developed for students visiting Graham, an interactive sculpture, in person or online.

Meet Graham was a big favorite at the One Show last month, where it won in the Print and Outdoor categories, says Cohn & Wolfe president Jim Joseph, who was a judge at that awards show. He predicts it will see similar success at Cannes.

"What I loved about it is it is wonderfully creative," says Joseph. "The fact that it got incorporated into the school curriculum shows the power of a great idea. The power of our field is to be able to make a societal impact aside from just sales, which is also important."

Simon Shaw, chief creative officer at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and lead of its global center of creative strategy, concurs that Meet Graham will win in "many, many categories" this year. However, he says the campaign may be an omen of the erosion of categories at Cannes, following the lead of the D&AD Awards, which pushed its social responsibility entries into other buckets this year.

Shaw, a judge at the D&AD Awards, says he and the organizers felt social responsibility should be baked into the brand activity category and not stand alone.

"For the last few years, all of the competition organizers have continued to add more and more categories to the awards almost to the degree where it has gotten a little bit silly," says Shaw. "Something like Meet Graham can win in anything from product design to PR to content to social media."

Zero Minutes of Fame, launched by the Brady Campaign and Ogilvy & Mather, is also a strong contender, says Joseph.

The effort tackles the issue of media coverage of mass shootings by encouraging people to install a Chrome plugin that wipes away killers' names and images in news stories and replaces them with names of victims. Ogilvy & Mather Chicago took home the Gold Pencil for Public Relations for the campaign at the One Show last month.

"I thought that was a great use of technology, use of what is going on in our culture, and trying to solve something," said Joseph. "I don’t think the winners will be those that have a purpose or take on a cause, rather those that actually leverage a social issue we are all grappling with as a society – whether that is gun control or bigotry or nationalism."

Heimann notes that past winning entries focused on being "charming for good," such as Dumb Ways to Die, the campaign for Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia, that put McCann Worldgroup in the spotlight at the 2013 festival.

There’s disagreement among experts about whether judges will reward entries that take on Trump- or Brexit-related issues. Brands including 84 Lumber, Budweiser, Airbnb, and Audi touched on hot topics in their ad campaigns for Super Bowl LI, but big game ads aren’t usually successful at Cannes. One that could break the mold is Budweiser’s The Hard Way Super Bowl ad, which tells the story of its founder arriving in America.

"The ad idea is Cannes-worthy and creative, not necessarily the PR support around it, but the ad got a ton of earned exposure," says Quinn. "So I will be interested to see if it’s in PR Lions.

However, Shaw predicts Cannes judges will react strongly against "piggybacking" on current affairs, especially when a brand makes light of an important issue.

"When Donald Trump mentioned building the Mexican wall during his presidential campaign, beer brands were doing campaigns about it; you saw the same campaigns again and again," says Shaw. "I think jurors are going to get tired of that, if they aren’t tired of it already. It seems insincere, unauthentic."

Instead, judges may reward campaigns that "bring back the joy," he predicts, such as Kenzo World’s first perfume film, called My Mutant Brain. The music video was directed by Spike Jonze and stars Margaret Qualley, who appears to become possessed after excusing herself from a stuffy event room.

It is so refreshing to see something that is pure joy and fun and is what fashion should be," says Shaw. "What made that a killer campaign is the fact I went home and showed my children—I rarely do that. We danced around the room."

PR agencies cross the border
The Cannes Lions introduced several fixes for the PR Lions this year after communications agencies were overshadowed by creative shops in nearly every category in 2016. The festival amended its definition of PR, how it credits agencies for Network of the Year, and key information for entry forms, among other changes.

Since the category’s launch in 2009, the number of entrants to the PR Lions has grown an average of 30% year-over-year, a Cannes spokesperson told PRWeek in March, though that number slowed to 13% last year with 2,225 total entries.

Last year, the U.S. won the highest number of PR Lions, 15, followed by Sweden (nine) and Colombia (six), with the U.K., France, Belgium, Australia, and Romania securing four each. In 2015, 79 PR Lions were awarded, with MSLGroup's Always #LikeAGirl winning the Grand Prix.

Joseph predicts communications shops will do well in non-PR categories this year, noting that Cohn & Wolfe has submitted just as many campaigns in non-PR categories as the PR Lions.

"Whether that is user experience, use of technology, awareness building, we even have some retail activations in our submissions, and we are not alone," he says. "Most agencies are in similar situations, crossing borders."

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