Not ‘who’ but ‘what’, won big at Cannes this year?

This year, Matt Waller, Creative Director at Recipe, asks himself not ‘Who won big at Cannes?’ but ‘What won big at Cannes?’

Matt Waller

Creative Director Recipe


This is not about what I personally liked/loved/hated at Cannes. This isn’t a witch-hunt to winkle out the Cannes cheat or scam entries, or a rant about how it’s all worse or better than previous years. But rather a look at the types of ads and genres that did well.

Try and see through the dazzling visual summersaults and the turn of phrase because I’m going to assume that all the Cannes Lions winners have great craft and so help to identify any trends. Instead if we boil the idea down into Type and Genres, we can look at whether the old testimonial still feels fresh or whether a product demo can still hold our attention.

What if an ad defies all categories, all labels and refuses to be pigeon-holed? Maybe that’s the definition of a real Cannes winner. ‘Like’, ‘love’, ‘hate’, should be words that a consumer uses to describe ads. Hold onto your hats, we’re about to get scientific(ish) here.

The next time you’re asked if you love it or hate it, ask yourself ‘what is it?’ and talk about that. If we start to think that way and have a shared vocabulary when discussing creative work, we can move away from subjective view points, have more tools at our disposal and in the end, help us all know what we are making and maybe, as a by product, win at Cannes.

So, let’s start at the beginning. The trusty old Testimonial. Now I must admit it is rather hard to find a Cannes winning example of a testimonial ad. An embarrassing start to a promising article. But then, over in Brand Experience & Activation, disguised as a ‘Brand experience’ is a good old fashioned Testimonial from Uber Eats. Nadal and co look like they are actually playing in the Australian Open when they turn round and say to camera “tonight i’ll be eating...” It won Cannes Silver.

So, what about the Product Demo. The classic Levi ads were descrbed as product demos wrapped up in a story. And phew, lots of winning examples at Cannes this year. The product demo is still alive and winning. Gold for Online Film: Apple at Work, The underdogs.

Then there’s the sub category, the Disguised Product Demo. A product demo where the viewer doesn’t realise they are watching one until the end, where it’s the rug pull or ta-da moment. Enjoy this gem from AT&T, it won a Cannes Silver for TV/ Cinema Film.

Next the charmingly named Two C***s In A Kitchen. You know the one. The overheard conversation where one person who’s ‘in the know’ explains why the product or service is amazing to someone who’s never heard of it. Who needs subliminal advertising when we have tricks like this? Tried and tested by the washing powder sector for decades, surely there’s no way this old chesnut could win at the premier ad show. And no I couldn’t find one. If anyone can find one, please post below. But let’s not consign this to the dustbin yet. It was only last year that this Geico ad won at Cannes. A classic example.

Next up the Analogy & Metaphor. Now I never can remember which is which, but do not fear, I have the internet and have looked it up. Analogies compare things so that you can see a relationship between them. Metaphors say something “is” something else, e.g. the company was a sinking ship. Got it? From personal experience I think this section is going out of fashion. If there’s something ‘to get’ this tends to make it not very research friendly and thus a risky option. And it seems that this year’s winners agree. I can only find one in the Film Category that I can only describe as a little odd and a bit long, but then that would be unscientific. It won a Silver for Viral Film.

And now straight from the pitch, the Manifesto. This can be high risk for the creative, but warm and seemingly catch all for the client. From the boardroom to shop floor, a winner if done right and a turkey if done wrong. But as Nike ‘Dream Crazy’ proves, it can still produce real emotional stuff. Multi-award winner at Cannes this year.

Next up the Music Video. Not a real one, but an ad in the style of a Music Video. A big track, some good choreography and maybe some singing and, bingo, you’ve reinvigorated a tired brand or made insurance interesting or created a vehicle to show lots and lots of diverse products. For example, the popular pop of ‘Go Argos’, the infinitely charming ‘Tiny Dancer’ in the John Lewis Home Insurance ad from Dougal Wilson and Snap!’ giving B&Q ‘The Power’ to DIY. Or as it is here, giving the unshootable a voice. A multi Cannes Lions award winner, 'Viva la Vulva' for Libresse.

Next up, the newer style Prankvertising, where the general public is pranked or treated to an unexpected experience. Candid Camera, Dom Jolly, Phone Jacker style. If your prank can hit the news, it’s zillions of free media all the way. Fake, but real brand changing impact, if done right. Found with a Cannes Silver for Brand Experience & Activation, the Fake News Stand campaign for Columbia Journalism Review.

And lastly the ever so popular Cannes Lions bait, Causevertising. You’re a breakfast cereal trying to save the planet one spoonful at a time; a box of nose tissue so worthy it could run for president. If you want to win a Grand Prix, don’t do a brand campaign, do a cause. Or fill pot holes and win Gold.

Guest Author

Matt Waller

Creative Director Recipe


Matt heads up Recipe's creative teams. With more than 20 agency years under his belt, he joined the agency in 2017 having been creative director at BMB, Grey and BBH.

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