For an intellectually cynical, emotionally sensitive, and somewhat immanently confused 17-year-old, there was no better place to spend my last summer of high school than at Cannes Lions.
This did not mean that I found the experience a catalytic one with life-shattering epiphanies, but it helped me realise how we tend to think about creativity.
“Creativity” for me is one of those nouns that seemed too idealistic to mean anything concrete enough. Society has always encouraged, demanded and expected creativity of us, but we really have no accurate gauge of what it means, either literally or intangibly. Not all new things unheard of are "creative", and it is so easy to forget that.
Cannes Lions was not exempted from this collective amnesia.
Before the festival, just looking at the programme gave my inner teenager heart palpitations the way meeting celebrities would. The festival did an amazing job blurring the line between entertainment and intellectual curiosity, which solicited critical disdain in the conversations that I had. People were distracted by the loud and provocative titles and distressed by the content’s inability to live up to those titles. They then arrived at conclusions about the festival's lack of integrity, as if they have somehow been cheated.
I am not here to criticise the embedding of entertainment into the talks, because it honestly is quite understandable and only natural. I am merely saying that it should not be the main sentiment of the festival.
As a first-timer at Cannes with relatively untempered clarity in mindset, I found a common thread in the 25 talks that I listened to.
I noticed that creativity is implicitly motivated by anxiety, as Betsy Beers put it, “I’m terrified that I’d stop growing. I’m scared of repeating myself.” Co-founder of Tinder, Sean Rad, said that he zeroed in on how “meeting new people is a fundamental need” when he started the dating app.
Mirriad's chief operating officer Ted Mico had a view that “great content is always risky", and Fetch CEO James Connelly advocated we should still "give a shit”. These perspectives were uttered 25 times throughout the talks in all their silver-tongued varieties.
As an industry of people so concerned with consumer behaviour, or as the creators of the Bacardi graphic novel described as “finding the balance between what you want to say versus what they want to hear”, we are obsessed with pinpointing the static wants of target audiences. We want a formula: this is what people want, but there are creative ways to give them what they want. We singularly want to be thought of as "great”, and advertising is the illusion of a panacea for all needs.
Since we think we know what people want, the only other variable is what we do with that information. This makes the work we create more about how we fulfill a desire or justify an idea; it makes the work self-centric. But really, what Cannes Lions is idealistically trying to create is creativity that will impact a community, or as Fake Love put it, "tugging on heartstrings” that would “stay with that person long after they’ve walked away”.
Maybe, if we make our work more audience-centric, we cannot be accused of having anything less than integrity. Maybe, we can finally shy away from just bringing different forms of the same content to the stage, and no other 17-year-old would have to sit through 25 seminars talking about the need for change in 25 eloquently phrased ways. Who you are intellectually should not take up 30 minutes out of a 45-minute talk.
Take it from someone who was conventionally graded on creative responses probably a bit more recently than you were.
Being in advertising should mean being on your toes and trying to find a balance between experimenting and experiencing. This will happen if we realise that, as an industry with the power to mould people’s wants, the moulders do not matter.