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Five Things I Learned on the Cannes’ Creative Data Innovation Jury

July 7, 2015 | By Tom Eslinger, Worldwide Digital Creative Director—Saatchi & Saatchi

“What the hell is that?” was the typical reaction I had when I was asked what jury I was asked to serve on this year at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and answered “Creative Data Lions.” In fact, that was the same question that I, and possibly my fellow jurors, were asking as we progressed through the hundreds of entries in both pre and live judging. Categories with names like “Creative Use of Data – Strategic,” and criteria that wanted facts and figures rather than pictures, produced some curious case studies from creative agencies and probably weren’t specific enough for the data-driven marketers that finally had something of their own at the Festival. The jury was made up of creative, media, publishers, and technology experts and we poked, pruned and prodded our long and short-short lists to uncover the data inside the data.

The process was not only interesting, it was informative. Here are five things that serving on the Cannes’ Creative Data Innovation jury taught me about data:

  1. It’s still about the insights.
    My favorite planner once said to me “I don’t want you nodding along when you hear an insight; I want you to be amazed.” In advertising, this is nothing new: Data has been a part of creating ideas for decades. The difference is that now we can get real-deal insights from devices and social media, and then use tools to sift and sort. I believe that the actual human strategic minds will always be needed to find the various threads to weave together a killer strategy. Vodafone “Between Us” dug into data and the devices that carry it to inform creative and duck around sensitivity around domestic violence and culture. “Meeting Murilo” from Huggies used data to bring to life an insight and opportunity to communicate to vision-impaired parents in a highly emotional way, creating moving content and stories which reverberated through social media.
  1. Be simpler than ever.
    Creatives working in digital can overcomplicate things, geeking out on the technology and channels, or worse, taking boring data and making it even more dull. Madden “GIFerator” took blurred real-time game data and EA Sports Madden game visuals and mashed it all up with trash-talk and contextual ad-serving to own two football games at once on every screen its audience was using. “Run That Town” took dry data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and made a game which combined SIMS-y simulation of every city in Australia with lessons in local civics and how the player interacted with his/her community. Simple data also moved the jury emotionally, from the life-saving feature-phone enabler SOS SMS from the Mexican Red Cross and the National 9/11 Memorial Museum which creates beautiful visualizations from data collected from Sept 11 to the present day.
  1. Left-field is a good place to play.
    My fellow judges and I loved the idea that since this award category is so new, the tech and the ways to creatively play with information are iterated and constantly improved. In fact, ad-serving technology and measurement processes and technology became available since several entries had been created—causing us to take pause and consider data and business context that was just weeks past. While the award category is still new to Cannes and other award shows, this is a place for experiments and prototypes to find their feet and first major recognitions. The key for our selections that earned Lions was that the idea, insight, and execution could scale, so ask yourself: is my data-driven creative executions transportable across languages and cultures? Can it capture the data it needs to be successful legally in major markets? What are the devices and carrier infrastructures like in those markets.Lucozade “Sports Conditions Zone” was a great example of this: an idea that is difficult to great across (the heat in South America that footballers would encounter during the WorldCup) brought to life as an actual football match with simulated steamy conditions, all measured and visualized with data from actual players’ bodies. Lucozade became the product demo and the means to bring the insight to life in a simulated rain forest in East London. A novel, scalable, simple idea and execution.
  1. There’s still room (upon room upon room) for innovation and ideas.
    We didn’t award a Grand Prix, which is rare at Cannes Lions, and while there were ideas and executions and prototypes showing immense potential, not one stood for enough of the diverse categories to truly represent the Lion overall. Personally, aside from the rush of satisfaction and team pride when I’ve won at Cannes, the festival represents the reset button for me for the previous creative year. The work that merits Lions, and even some of the shortlisted entries, become the template for what to beat in the year ahead, and unfortunately, the work to be copied and “built-on” by our less adventurous fellow marketers. In the world of Cannes Lions, iteration is not a good thing. The words “that’s been done before” from a jury member can shrivel the hopes of a potential short-lister. New categories at awards shows create equal parts engagement and confusion: intense interest on what to expect leading up to the announcement of the shortlist and head-scratching wonder over why some work was chosen, let alone “what the hell do all these categories actually mean?” Twin Souls from Russian charitable foundation “Change One Life” used advance technology to dramatically improve the lives of both orphans and potential parents by allowing both to upload images which were scanned (and their data analyzed against massive databases) and matched for close resemblance, a factor which contributes greatly to successful adoptions. While image recognition isn’t prefect the tech and idea struck a chord and will hopefully inspire others to use technology, powerful data processing capabilities with a real human need at the center.
  1. Get the front and back-ends in the same room.
    In our industry, creative is often referred to as the “Front End” and data and analysis as the “Back End,” and while integration of teams and disciplines has been endlessly talked about at Cannes Lions, the Data Creativity category is where the lack of integration in the final product will be glaringly obvious. The data and creative and strategic teams must work seamlessly and closely together and stop paying lip-service to integration. Winners like Madden GIFerator, Run That Town, Twin Souls, and 9/11 Memorial clearly had integrated teams and data-driven creative at their core and deserved the Lions they took home. Reactively using data to create literally thousands of creative permutations on-the-fly means that creative directors can add data to their teams as the wild card to keep things interesting.

I believe that the Creative Data Lions, Innovation Lions, Effectiveness, Cyber and Mobile are the most future-facing, interesting aspects of Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and will become the most important award presentations to attend to see what’s really worth celebrating. The why is simple: Even the most siloed creative sitting comfortably under a rock has to bring data, and the insights that it provides, into their work to survive in the business of selling things (also known as “advertising”).

The cheap, easy-to-use and understand technology, cost efficiencies demanded by clients in the creation of their marketing and all materials associated with it (now know as “content”) have collided with a generation of customers that aren’t that interested in being told what is right for them. In fact, they are pretty good at making and deciding the fates of some brands all by themselves, thank you very much. Our Jury President David Sable equated the outcome as marketing Darwinism and this is the extinction-level event that will once and for all separate the dinosaurs from whatever squiggly things survived a few million years ago.

This era-defining shift is a good thing for everyone: veteran creatives will have the opportunity of a lifetime to make the best work of their careers – ideas that truly connect and evolve using real-time co-creation with their intended customers. The newbies earning their first medal at the Creative Data Lions will massively increase their opportunities and profiles the same way a Cannes Film Lion did in pre-Internet festivals. The main difference is that the work will not resemble anything like what gets the crowd to their feet in the Palais in years past. There will be a certain amount of “What the hell is that?”

And that’s a very, very good thing.

Tom Eslinger is Saatchi & Saatchi’s Worldwide Digital Creative Director and author of Mobile Magic (Wylie, February 2014)

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