An annual festival of creativity occurred this month, and it’s a celebration of technology. Cannes Lions is more known among creative types than technology people, although Google, Facebook and Twitter have been the most prominent brands on the beach for some years. This year, big consultancies like IBM and Accenture claimed the spotlight as technology, platforms, and more recently AI and VR/AR keep raising their profile in the creative sphere.
While some still perceive creativity and machines at loggerheads, it was delightful to see the high level of technological sophistication in the winning work and most discussed talks. Here are the three most interesting themes and ideas, with comments from Dominique Delport, global managing director of Havas Group and chairman of Vivendi Content, whom I interviewed at the festival.
1. Smarter platforms
Machine learning and AI were huge themes at the festival, as expected. A.I.Men — built for the Young Pope TV series — is a pious AI that scans social media for sinners and replies with verses from the big book. The candy brand Snickers uses aggregate social sentiment with the Hungerithm algorithm to gauge a neighborhood’s “hangryness index” — and lowers Snickers prices at nearby 7-Elevens accordingly. The bot world darling Reply.AI won a Silver LIon with its conversational bot builder BotBot.
Brand safety, ad fraud, ethics, and opaqueness of agencies and media have been front and center during the past year. Havas’ Jason Jercinovic hosted a panel on Ethics of AI with the Venerable Tenzin from the Dalai Lama Center of Ethics. Fellow Havas representative Delport spent the week showcasing the intelligent Client Trading System (CTS) that, he says, is “already working hard at building trust back to the industry. CTS makes things 100 percent visible and transparent, moving power from the black box to the fingertips of marketers.”
AI was hard at work also on the health sector. Chat Yourself and Know You Again are both aimed at improving the lives of Alzheimer sufferers. The former provides a chat solution for recording and recalling things, while the latter powers smart glasses that recognize people for the patient. The Family Way combines an add-on smartphone lens with a sophisticated visual analysis app for testing male fertility at home.
And machine learning was busy solving societal problems too. Headspace’s browser plugin Reword uses AI to detect bullying from context and syntax and suggests more constructive phrases, while AI Buddy consoles kids whose parents are either killed in or deployed at war. Chinese messaging company QQ has built QQ Alert, an AI that extrapolates people’s adult faces from their childhood photos and helps find lost kids, even after decades.
2. Deeper content
With the explosion of formats, being a creative today is both exciting and challenging. Snap, Facebook, and YouTube showcased social VR and AR; Fox introduced YouTube’s 6-second format for TV; and Jeffrey Katzenberg talked about WndrCo, his 10-minute “New TV” format.
Among VR wins, Google’s Tilt Brush won two golds, and is sure to be a creativity powerhouse for the virtual world. Audi’s Enter the Sandbox took playful creation to car buyers, with a physical sandbox and a VR cockpit enabling people to drive inside their own creations. VR was in use for health too, as VR Vaccine distracted shot-fearing kids with a game-like experience.
In the AR world, Faber-Castell charmed with Never-Ending Forest, which turns its new colored pencils into magical creatures. Deutsche Telekom went a step further with Magenta Unleashed, which harnesses practically every magenta-colored surface for augmented brand celebration. By soliciting Snaplications, McDonald’s showed how AR can work in recruiting.
Delport is enthusiastic about new opportunities mixing brands, agencies, technology and entertainment. “Cannes Lions introduced Media and Entertainment categories last year, and this year Universal Music Group’s CEO Lucian Grainge was awarded Media Person of the Year. This shows how these industries are closing in on each other.” He also reflected on the “New CTR”: “to realize the opportunities now possible with new technology, we need to focus on Creativity, Transparency and Relevance, instead of metrics that are too narrow or one-dimensional.”
This year’s winners mixed game worlds with other worlds, both the real world and other game worlds. Los Santos Pride was a clever mod for GTA V online with custom Pride goodies and an indestructible Pride parade. Hostile Takeover saw Call of Duty’s Infinite Warfare game invade their Black Ops world for special content, a messenger tie-in, and extra quests.
3. Better futures
After a tumultuous 2016, Cannes Lions 2017 was expectedly abuzz with talks and work that revolved around the rights of minorities. Similarly elevated were themes of creating real solutions for people, communities, and the planet.
The Grand-Prix winning intelligent system, named the Aland Index, calculates a person’s environmental impact from their credit card purchases. It already has Mastercard, with its 2 billion card carriers, interested. After crunching masses of data, Whirlpool unearthed novel insights about the relationship between clean clothes and school attendance. Bringing washing machines to schools with its Care Counts initiative, the company aims to improve poor kids’ academic performance.
Pocket Patrol is Samsung’s AI-powered mobile app that spots and indicates rip tides and other beach water hazards through augmented reality. Designed to save lives in India’s notorious traffic, Roads that Honk use visual recognition to alert drivers coming into blind curves. In Australia, Aami Smartplates use machine learning and weather data, among other things, to gamify and personalize driving instruction for best possible results.
Delport took the stage with futurist and designer Alex McDowell to talk about World Building. McDowell developed the method for the film Minority Report, but it has since been used for brand narratives, service innovation, environmental education, and even language studies. According to Delport, World Building “makes us rethink how we see ourselves as professionals, companies, and an industry — as creators of better futures, not just better content.”
Sami Viitamaki is the executive director for digital at Havas, an advertising firm.