Skip to content

Cannes Lions 2021: What can brands learn from creative campaigns?

Cannes Lions 2021: What can brands learn from creative campaigns?

Not that you would know if you looked outside the window, but we’re in the month of June and Cannes Lions: The International Festival of Creativity is in full swing. The Festival has been around for nearly 70 years with the aim of providing a global destination and the definite benchmark for creativity that drives progress.

We’re seeing a few themes ringing out from this year’s winning campaigns:

Purpose at the forefront

In a year blindsided by the Covid-19 pandemic, brands have brought purpose to the forefront and to the mainstream of their messaging – demonstrating the difference they can make via corporate responsibility, rather than making the same claims differently. And it doesn’t always need to be serious. Consumers are craving a bit of light relief after the year that they’ve had. They want hopeful, not depressing purpose-led work.

A winning example was from Heineken. As part of their global #SocialiseResponsibly campaign, the beer brand reimagined out-of-home advertising to help more than 5,000 bars around the world survive and re-open following the pandemic. ‘Shutters’ saw Heineken redirect some of its investment in OOH advertising (10% global media budget) to support on-trade partners affected by Covid closures – taking over their closed shutter to place their adverts and paying the bars directly for this opportunity. The campaign raised awareness of the challenges faced by on-trade outlets, redistributing €7.5m to the bars involved. The initiative also demonstrated the impact that innovative ways of working with sales can have; the power of working closely with the different departments within your business to debate challenges, garner audience insights, create campaigns, drive success and achieve your end goal, together.

Shutters gained 40% more media value than traditional OOH routes. Plus, it prompted other Heineken brands and even competitors to join in the effort to support on-trade outlets. And it certainly worked, as 100% of the bars involved in the initiative have now re-opened.

This campaign created true talkability amongst core target audiences for Heineken (the industry, bar owners and beer drinkers) and allowed the brand to highlight it’s personality and positioning as a confident beer company that stands for openness, creativity and innovative thinking.

Human truths are the key

A creative campaign based on one simple relatable insight will always hit home. Especially if it is highly emotive.

It is so important to get under the skin of your audience. Listen to them. What irks them? What makes them tick? What is going to make them act? By showing your target audience that you know all this, and delivering marketing campaigns that resonate, you create that unforgettable ‘oh yeah’ moment, that leads to your brand making a long-lasting impact.

A campaign that hit the mark at Cannes this year, that had a human truth at the heart of it, was from BBK Foundation, “The Last Older Person to Die in Loneliness”. BBK’s objective was to show their social contribution through an awareness campaign that could draw attention to some of the programs they develop and issues they address in their foundation. They had the insight that in Spain (where the campaign took place), more than 2 million people over the age of 65 live in a situation of undesired loneliness. So much so, they feel their loneliness is ‘death in life’.

Now, not everyone is over 65 and living on their own, but everyone has experienced a time of being lonely themselves. And nobody would want an elderly friend or relative of theirs to feel like they didn’t want to live anymore due to loneliness. The execution of this campaign saw BBK lean on this relatable insight, by bringing loneliness an identity with Mercedes.  BBK created a public installation of a hyper-realistic sculpture representing “the last older person to die in loneliness” and with subsequent positive twist relying on a true story from a real older person, Mercedes, who suffered unwanted loneliness. They managed to create a recognizable symbol that stirred consciences. It created an example of how an element exposed for all the world to see, based on an emotive human truth, can help society and media face an issue like this one. The campaign raised awareness towards it and generated a real impact, making visible something that until now was invisible.

Brands can learn from this: so often we get lulled into a false sense of security over a period of time, believing we know our audiences inside out, what makes them tick, how to reach them and where. But people are individuals, growing and changing – change which is exacerbated by the pandemic. Now is the time to forget what you think you know about the audiences you are trying to reach. Start from scratch. Really deep dive into your audience strategy: find out where they are, and be present there yourself, conduct research, listen to what gets them riled up or passionate on social media, find out what interests them – get into the nitty gritty. Now’s the time to show you understand them, and you’re there for their needs, rather than shouting into an abyss.

Being bold pays off

So often red tape and brand guidelines mean that creative ideas can get watered down, not executed as truly imagined and therefore not sufficiently meet the campaign and brand’s objectives. We’re in an era of being bold, taking a risk and providing people with what they really need.

A cracking example of this is from the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation. Their objective was to show women how to check for breast cancer and encourage them to get checked. Their barrier? In countries with large Muslim communities, cultural taboos about intimate parts of the body prevent women from going to the doctor or conducting self-examinations when it comes to checking their breasts for cancer.

To get around this problem, the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation (LBCF) created ‘The Bread Exam’. The idea began with a video of Chef Um Ali baking two mounds of dough, then kneading them to show how women should examine their breasts. They coincided the launch of the video with World Cancer Day and partnered with an array of handpicked influencers from across the globe to create their own version of ‘The Bread Exam’ (in the UK, this was 2017 MasterChef winner, doctor, chef and influencer Dr Saliha Mahmood Ahmed), plus NGOs. This approach enabled the LCBF to circumnavigate taboos and the red tape, educate women in a simple, relatable manner, and utilise NGOs and influencers to build awareness and advocacy.

This example highlights the importance of standing by your gut feel and standing up for campaigns you believe in, in order to meet business objectives and really drive success and growth.

Now’s the time for brands to really listen to their audience – where are they? What do they want, what do they need? Make change, and be bold. Brands should be looking to their target audiences to learn from them, to build smarter marketing campaigns that will drive business growth.

Where are you visiting from?

Select from the regional list below.


    Apply now

    Submit your application directly to our careers team using this form. We look forward to hearing from you!

    Fields marked with a * are required to submit the form.

    Name *
    * Upload your CV and any other supporting documentsSupported file types: doc, docx, pdf, rtf, txt. (MAX size: 6MB)

      Sign up to hear from us

      We send a range of frequent newsletters on several topics below. Submit your details here to receive some or any of these communications.

      Fields marked with a * are required to submit the form.

      Name *
      Which area are you interested in hearing about? *

      If you have a general enquiry, please contact us here.

        Get in touch

        How can we help? Contact us using the form below, or via the following:


        Phone: +44 207 457 2020

        Fields marked with a * are required to submit the form.

        Name *