Charlotte Rawlings
Feb 26, 2024

‘It exists to not exist in a couple of years’: Why Cannes introduced a humour category

Campaign interviews Cannes Lions' global director of awards Marian Brannelly.

Cannes Lions: ‘There's more funny work happening, but there isn't a dedicated space for it’
Cannes Lions: ‘There's more funny work happening, but there isn't a dedicated space for it’

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity's decision to introduce a humour category for this year's awards is designed to push for "real creative courage" in ads.

That's according to Marian Brannelly, the global director of awards for the festival, who was speaking to Campaign about why the category was created, the research that went into its conception and how entrants will be judged fairly in the context of comedy – “like a great comedian landing that punchline”.

The humour category invites agencies and brands to enter comedic work as part of the cultural and context sections. The addition is not a standalone award but instead a category within 13 of the Lions. The use of humour will therefore be considered in the same way as art direction or copywriting within the individual Lions.

Brannelly said: “It takes real creative courage and commitment to use humour as a tool."

She added: “When there's humour, it really just perks up your day. Actually, that's really what advertising [is about].”

This calls into question whether purpose is still a factor in the jury’s decisions. For Brannelly, just because something is humorous doesn’t mean it can’t have purpose. Instead, she feels this category might challenge brands and creatives to think differently about the way they view purpose.

“There could be some really interesting work that comes out of this that's tackling a thorny subject that actually is purposeful, but in an engaging way that doesn't make people feel sad about it,” she said.

The category could indeed have a large impact on the sort of work that is produced in the years to come. Brannelly points out that often brands can be wary of comedy, but with more work being awarded for its use of humour, she hopes the category will get brands excited about it and say: “How can we do something better? How can we make it bigger and bolder and funnier, and really engage that audience?"

Read the full interview with Brannelly below:

Campaign: Why have you decided to embrace humour this year?

Brannelly: We've heard more feedback [from the jury] every year, and they were like: "You need a category for humour." We interrogated that a little bit and we started looking at the data. We're starting to see more and more work winning that is [humorous].

[For] any changes we make to the awards, we do a lot of research and we talk to the industry. More people were saying that there's this big mass of work that is emotional and really tugging at the heartstrings, [but] when there's humour, it really just perks up your day. Actually, that's really what advertising [is about] – the aim of it is to engage people, make them think and make them move or change their behaviour.

So we started digging into it and looking at the winners [last] year; there was a real shift in the tone of the work. There was "RIP Leon" and there was "The last performance". There were a couple of winners that actually had different forms of humour, like slapstick and dark humour. There's more funny work happening, but there isn't a dedicated space for it.

One of the challenges is often brands are a bit cautious and a bit wary of going there because it can be polarising. [This] really is a space for brands and agencies to look and say: "Okay, this is really great work that's happening that is using humour as a creative technique, as a tool." That's what we really wanted to champion.

Campaign: Can you explain what credentials you’ll be looking at when considering a piece of work in the humour category?

Brannelly: It's the same as any other piece of creative. It's an approach. So [the same as the] use of the art direction or the copywriting in any of the other Lions. So within film, for example, use of humour is going to be a category within film. So the jury are going to be experts in film and they're looking at this as a technique and as an approach. So they're not judging the comedy – it's not a comedy competition – but they're judging how the brand used humour to engage with their audience.

In terms of the credentials, it's the credentials of being creative experts in their fields and whatever the Lion is. Humour is so subjective, and we've got people from all over the world. So I think that the central insight is: "Is this funny for the audience?" Some things universally make you smile and some things will be nuanced, we recognise that.

The cultural context is going to be crucial, because I saw someone say: "That's explaining the joke." That's not the purpose of the cultural context question at all; the cultural context question is to understand, what's the market's appetite for humour? Is it a super conservative region? Are there a lot of cliches in the category? What was happening at the time in that market that made it feel that this was the right moment for a little bit of tongue in cheek?

The cultural context, the setup, the premise, the delivery and the execution. Like a great comedian landing that punchline.

Campaign: You touched on how humour varies in different markets. How are you going to make sure you approach this fairly?

Brannelly: It is different in different markets, but the counter argument to that is emotion is different. All of these emotions are different, so all of the different types of creative work that's coming through across all of the Lions is different in different markets. It really is another approach and technique.

What we encourage [entrants] to think about is making the premise really clear. What makes you smile or what makes you laugh is dependent on your individual personality, but I think ultimately if the goal for the brand was to [target] Argentinian teenagers [for example], if they found that hilarious and then they shared it all over social then [the brand has] done what [it] set out to do and that ultimately is creative that matters.

Campaign: Purpose really had its moment during the pandemic. With more humorous ads coming out, where does this leave purpose?

Brannelly: We had this discussion when we were doing our research; does one replace the other? From our conversations, we don't think it's a binary; using humour doesn't mean that it doesn't have purpose. It takes real creative courage and commitment to use humour as a tool. A brand and an agency, their relationship has to be really strong to say: "This is funny, our audience will find this funny."

There isn't just one way to talk about purpose; some can be emotional and really hard hitting, but some can just be really funny. There was a winner from the UK that was from Ogilvy in London, and it was “The Hornicultural Society” and that's addressing sexual awareness in the over-65s. That's not a topic you would think of as being funny; you wouldn't really put that together.

There could be some really interesting work that comes out of this that's tackling a thorny subject that actually is purposeful, but in an engaging way that doesn't make people feel sad about it.

Campaign: Campaign asked some industry figures about their thoughts on the humour category being introduced. Trevor Robinson, founder and executive creative director at Quiet Storm, said: “It’s just a shame that humour has been so sidelined recently that there’s a need to create a separate awards category for it.” Dan Warner and Andy Vasey, creative directors at 4Creative, also said: “It shouldn’t be treated as a frivolous sideshow.” What do you say to comments like this?

Brannelly: We want to back out of it, right? So we wanted to create that space so that category isn't needed any more. But I think for the moment we want to create a space that people can point to and be excited about that work and then it starts infiltrating back into the mainstream again.

It exists to not exist in a couple of years ultimately. A lot of the categories that we introduce, nothing is set in stone. With the use of humour, we'd love it if we didn't need it, but [we need] that place to champion that kind of work at the minute.

Campaign: Some people have shown concern over how this will impact humour’s presence in other categories. Will humour still be awarded in other categories?

Brannelly: Definitely. We don't anticipate that to change at all.

Campaign: How do you think the humour category will impact the industry and the sort of work it produces in the future?

Brannelly: It's really difficult to make something funny and by creating this category [we] hope that brands and clients can look and say: "Okay, I want to do that" or "They did that and they did it really well. There was no kickback or pushback. The audience really loved it. How can we do something better? How can we make it bigger and bolder and funnier, and really engage that audience?"

From an agency side and creative side, they think of these great ideas all the time; that's their job, right? They're coming up with these brilliant, fascinating ideas all of the time. That’s the space to play and take some of those zany ideas that might never have gotten off the chopping board.

Campaign: Cannes also introduced the AI disclosure rule: what was the idea behind asking agencies to disclose this information?

Brannelly: AI is this big, huge topic everyone's talking about. We know that it's a tool, people are using it. We really want to get the full picture [in the jury room]. They're not challenging the actual work, they're challenging the merits of the creative idea itself. It's to give the jury that full picture and to see how that work has been created. How is AI being used? What are the ways creatives are using it? To create that space to learn more and celebrate great creative work.

Source:
Campaign UK
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