Cannes entries show that PR has some big ideas and even bigger balls

Hello from the midway point of jury duty at Cannes - we've seen pretty much everything we're here to judge, but we're yet to get to the pointy end of shortlist and silverware selection.

Kat Thomas knows how hard it is to get an idea from the boardroom to the trophy cabinet
Kat Thomas knows how hard it is to get an idea from the boardroom to the trophy cabinet

This means we’re still leaving the room during daylight and there’s no sign of French patisserie fatigue.

So, what can I tell you about the themes that have emerged?

It won’t surprise you to hear it’s the year of campaigns that champion transgender rights and humanise the refugee crisis.

What’s perhaps a little more remarkable are the brands congratulating themselves for supporting gay and lesbian causes, describing the work as ‘provocative’ and ‘brave’ in their respective countries.

These campaigns can still be extraordinarily powerful of course, but is ‘brave’ really an accurate descriptor in 2016? What a depressing thought.

If you want brave, take some of the work we’ve seen from Saudi Arabia.

A milk brand that chose to educate mothers that breast milk is better than its own product, when breastfeeding is a topic never discussed in public as it’s deemed offensive.

Or the female hygiene brand that chose to shine a light on women with aspirations to be scientists, politicians and engineers… in a country where all women, regardless of age, are unable to leave the house without a male guardian.

Both brands had the potential for backlash and boycott. Both said to hell with the risk.

In the FMCG corner, there’s a deep fried whiff of desperation from the fast-food brands… from flavoured nail varnish to bacon bouquets, you can’t help but sense this is a category feeling the full force of flux driven by the healthy eating movement.

It’s a tough brief and it’s only getting tougher when product innovations don’t seem to reflect changing appetites. The panic feels palpable.

On the flip side, we’ve seen some refreshing work from food brands responding to the obesity issue head on – while reducing the sugar and artificial additives in heavily processed foods is a prerequisite for survival these days, many are avoiding the temptation to do it quietly, instead putting these improvements front and centre of memorable and entertaining campaigns that acknowledge the problem in a frank and honest way.

The best thing about the judging experience is seeing so many brilliant ideas that agencies actually persuaded brands to run with, sometimes against all odds.

I know how hard it is to get an award-winning idea from the boardroom all the way to the trophy cabinet.

I’m not sure what I admire more – the creative genius, or the conviction it must have taken to sell it. There are some big ideas in our industry and some even bigger balls.

Kat Thomas is founder of One Green Bean and a judge in the PR category at Cannes

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