The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity has drawn to a close, and hundreds of proud brands are headed home with their shiny, new awards. While a plethora of advertising was seen at the festival, those most recognized fought for a cause, touched audiences on an emotional level or took enormous risks.

Ads With A Cause

Brands determined to leave a legacy were a popular trend this year, from Grand Prix winner The Organic Effect persuading Swedish families to eat better to Testimonies urging those testing negative for HIV to support those who weren’t as lucky.

Although you might think cause-driven campaigns are “award gold,” Cannes jurors are warning those creating disingenuous ads just for recognition. “When you just staple something on . . . I think I can speak for all 20 jurors that we had cause fatigue,” jury president, John Clinton told PR Week. “We’re sitting there looking at some of the things people stick on to their brands and you’re like, ‘how the hell did that come about?’”

Bringing Art To Life


In a campaign to promote the Art Institute of Chicago’s upcoming Van Gogh exhibit, artists recreated his painting The Bedroom in real-life and invited the public through Airbnb to spend the night. All nights in the room sold out within minutes. Online pre-sale tickets to the exhibition were up 250 percent and more than 200,000 people attended in just six weeks. The room cost $31,000 to build and generated more than $6 million in earned media.

In an experiential campaign for the Kamoi Kakoshi brand of Washi tape—long, thin and decorated sticky tape that can also be used to customize your belongings—an exhibition was created where visitors could be creative and play with over 80,000 tapes that were hanging from the ceiling. The result was a visually overwhelming environment of color and texture that garnered its public relations agency a Golden Lion Award.

Reinvention And Risks

Beyoncé was awarded one of two Excellence In Music awards for her video Formation, defying the typical Grand Prix-winning campaign in that no corporate brand was attached. “[You have] the biggest artist on the planet taking serious risks,” Josh Rabinowitz, jury president of Lions Entertainment, said in a press conference. “This is a mainstream pop artist pushing the limits on the way we perceive things of race in culture, and the perception of women in culture.”

Queen B wasn’t the only Hollywood A-lister taking risks, as Channing Tatum discussed his own brand of vodka, Born & Bred. The creator and star of the Magic Mike films stated that he wanted to “slow down on acting,” much to the disappointment of the primarily female audience in attendance. Tatum told the crowd that he decided to create his own vodka because none of the brands out there appealed to him or his friends. He was more interested in creating a world that he and his friends would live in. “It’s storytelling more than building an actual brand,” explained Tatum.

REI was a hot topic this past fall (and thus awarded) when the retailer gave its employees a paid day off on Black Friday and closed online sales. Using the tag #OptOutside, REI encouraged would-be shoppers to enjoy the outdoors instead. The idea of a retailer opting out of the busiest shopping day of the year seems insane, but this successful campaign got the world talking. The result was 170 organizations closing down for the day and parks opening to the public, reinforcing REI’s outdoor-centric brand.

Burger King’s tongue-in-cheek ad campaign for World Peace Day was another risk-gone-right. In a full-page ad in the New York Times, Burger King pitched an idea to their biggest rival McDonald’s to create a hybrid burger called the #McWhopper. McDonald’s didn’t bite, but the Cannes judges did, sending them home with the top award for Print and Publishing.

Breakvertising, meanwhile, was honored for a new way to look at in-video advertising by showing ads only when a user pressed pause.

From the outside, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is full of bright stars and coveted awards, but the heart and soul of marketing is reaching the audience on an emotional level. Each award-winning campaign told a story that resonated with its audience and encouraged conversation. When the audience remembers your ad, they remember your brand.