Tuomas Peltoniemi
Jun 24, 2016

Cannes 2016: Asian innovations fall short in proving market potential and scale

Innovation Lions jury member Tuomas Peltoniemi of TBWA's Digital Arts Network explains Asia's lacklustre showing, and how to do better next year.

Cannes 2016: Asian innovations fall short in proving market potential and scale

I was fortunate to be a part of the Cannes Innovation Lions Jury this year. The judging process for this category is different from the other categories at Cannes. The jury will pre-vote on all the entered work, and a shortlist is formulated before the festival begins. Each of the shortlisted finalist teams will then travel to Cannes and have the opportunity to present to the Jury for 10 minutes, followed by a 10-minute Q&A. Therefore, the presentation, live demo of the innovation, and well formulated answers to the jury’s questions become critical in the judging process.

What is also unique about the Innovation Lions is the variety of different types of innovation presented, from ideas around social good that can change people’s lives, to process improvements, to business-to-business innovations, as well as consumer products and services. The jury is selected accordingly. It consists of a diverse group of experts from creative agencies, technology companies, venture capital firms, and client-side innovation units. 

Selecting the winners for Innovation Lions is particularly challenging because it’s nearly impossible to compare the projects against each other. This year we saw not only ideas that were for social good, but also some that create new markets and solve brand problems.

More Cannes 2016 coverage

Therefore, how do you compare an innovation from a multi-billion-dollar company with a passion project from two guys in a garage? How do you look at an idea for social good against something that could revolutionise film production for cars? Keeping all this in mind, it became very clear early on that we needed to look at each of the finalists in isolation and consider its unique circumstances carefully.

Because the Innovation Lions includes a presentation and Q&A, the entries have to be carefully packaged. Projects need to demonstrate how innovation is used to solve a particular problem, but it is equally important to show how ideas can scale, and that they have demonstrated some level of traction. Teams should also consider how to best demonstrate unit economics, size of the opportunity, how production and scalability of the idea is presented, along with pricing, investment and IP protection. 

This year we chose our Grand Prix based on the impact it is going to have in the world. Artificial intelligence is perhaps one of the largest and most potential innovation areas for the foreseeable future. Google Alphago has achieved something no other AI innovation has. For the first time, a machine was able to beat the best Go player in the world.

Why is this relevant? Go is arguably the most complicated game humans have ever invented. The way Go works, a brute-force approach to AI would not achieve the right outcome. Also, multiple innovation projects have taken on this challenge before, but have never reached above-average results. Alphago is based on a neural network approach to AI, which is an attempt to create a level of intuition that machines have not had before. This approach will have a game-changing impact across multiple industries in the near future.

This year, out of 39 shortlisted finalists, only four were from Asia. These were all fantastic ideas, but fell short on demonstrating some of the other key criteria, such as market potential and scale, which the judges have to consider.

Also, based on my conversation with the other jury members, we too often confuse innovation with invention. An innovative idea does not need to be something that has never been done before. In fact, as this year’s Grand Prix demonstrates, some of the most successful innovation ideas take an existing challenge and solve it differently. Also, innovation does not always have to involve a high level of technology. We saw fantastic ideas, such as the Paper Glasses from Mexico, which use a low-tech solution to a real problem. This is where the opportunity for Asian-born innovative ideas exists.

With the size of the consumer markets in Asia, plus the amount of creative, technology and business talent we have in our industry, the potential for innovation is there. I hope we will see a dramatic increase in well-packaged, thoughtful innovation ideas from Asia in next year’s Innovation Lions.

Tuomas Peltoniemi is Asia president and innovation director at TBWA's Digital Arts Network

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