Ryan Stoner | Brand Strategist

Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is a global event held in France, a festival that celebrates those working in the advertising, creative communications, and digital innovations spaces. It is the largest worldwide gathering of more than 15,000 advertising professional, marketers, designers, and all who are involved in the business of selling a message.

There is a LOT of content, and LOT of meetings, and a LOT of discussion about advertising and creative work as a whole. Where are the industries going? What are the big trends this year, and what will they be next year, and for years to come?

It never been easy keeping up with the social trends and thoughts. It’s never been easy to innovate and to be the first to try something. It’s never been easy to connect with people’s emotions and drive them towards your ideals. Great advertising does all of those things at once. Here are some of the big takeaways from the 2016 event:

1. I’ve said it many times before and I will continue saying it. Technology is king. VR was a standout focus this year. In fact, the New York Times proved that print may be dying, but that doesn’t mean the publishers need to die as well. A moving VR experience called “The Displaced” took double Grand Prix for the NYT, putting viewers into the lives and experiences of refugee children expelled from their countries, creating an emotional and educational story. Also involved in the tech discussion were tools like chatbots, augmented reality, and 360 video. Innovation here is key to not just remaining relevant, but finding whole new ways of telling your story.

2. Adblockers were a big part of the conversation this year as well. Over 40 million people currently use AdBlock, which is a Google Chrome extension that does exactly what the name suggests. And that’s just one of the software add-ons that people can use, millions more users are out there using similar technology, and the advertising sphere needs to figure out how to compensate. Historically the advertising industry has been focused on making advertising with a message, and hoping it “goes viral”, but you can’t just make “viral content”, it has to be smart, and in tune with the zeitgeist, and add something to the conversation. It’s a sucker’s bet to rely on viral ads alone, so the conversation needs to turn towards other forms of engagement, and how to get the users wanting to interact with you, not block you.

3. “I’ve been coming to Cannes for 15 years and this is the first year where no one, I mean no one, was talking about creative,” said Rob Schwartz, CEO of TBWAChiatDay New York. “VR? Yes. Ad blocking? Yes. Gwyneth Paltrow? Yes. Creative? Not so much.” But not everyone came away with that impression. While there was a lot of conversation about the the tech, the strategy, and the constraints, there was also a lot of talk about brand identity and how much creative still does matter. From Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank talking about the exponential growth and how much of that had to do with creative to the REI brand and strategy of closing on Black Friday and doing a web, commercial, and social campaign, including the hashtag #optoutside to go along with it, it is clear that there is profit to be had in designing a great campaign.

4. Obviously, the youth are a big focus for advertising and always have been. The desire to be heard, the expendable income, the big ideas… all of these appeal to and drive the younger demographic. But there was a lot of discussion about no longer appealing specifically to the “Millennials.” While listening to adults and children of the millennial and Gen Z set is important, it is no longer novel or important to focus on selling specifically to them. Millennials are tired of being targeted simply by virtue of the year they were born in, and are looking for engagement based on specific passions and experiences, rather than being categorized as a whole.

5. Gender and sexuality are also a big part of the conversation right now, in advertising and also in the world of advertising professionals. We’ve all seen the cigarette-smoking, womanizing of Mad Men, and while the entire market has come a long way in diversity and innovation, there is some part of that world remaining. While so many ads recognized at the event, like this Grand Prix winning ad from India showcasing a transgender pop group, focused on breaking down gender stereotypes and sexuality in a positive, forward-thinking way, there was a particularly sexist ad winning an award, from NYMag: “The ad, created by AlmapBBDO agency in São Paulo, Brazil, features two boxes of aspirin and reads, “‘Don’t worry babe, I’m not filming this.’mov.” The joke presumably refers to a man filming himself having sex with a woman without her consent (hilarious!), and then needing an aspirin after she finds out and yells at him.” In addition, a Thrillist/VaynerMedia party at the event itself sent out invitations specifically to “attractive females and models” that required unretouched photos as well as links to social media profiles for all women before attendance was granted.