Cannes Lions

Postcard from Cannes: Simplicity Conquers Technology

Amid Big Data and Shiny New Technology, Simple Ideas Matter More than Ever

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I didn't think it was possible, but I somehow exploited a loophole in the traditional rule structure of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to secure a coveted spot on a jury.

Turns out there are a couple categories -- effectiveness, health and innovation -- where clients can join agency folks at the table. And so I jumped head first into the Innovation Lions jury, a relatively new category focusing on the convergence of data, technology and creativity.

I loved it -- every minute, every pitch. The vast body of work was outstanding -- the "best ever," noted our jury president Nick Law of R/GA (I put together a video clip of more jury reactions). Moreover, the jury deliberation -- always spirited and sometimes intense -- easily rivaled the best of sporting events.

First observation: The Cannes organizers are really buttoned up. They monitor the process -- the online voting, the judging process -- like (friendly) hawks. There's integrity to the process, and the staff is exceptionally service-oriented. They answered email questions in a matter of seconds and were readily on hand at the actual event for all manner of inquiries.

So how does it all work? First, we worked through nearly 180 submissions from all over the world via an online voting process. This started nearly a month ago. The online voting process was smart and effective. For example, you couldn't cast a vote until you reviewed all the supporting material. No ad skipping here, my friends.

By the time we arrived in Cannes last week, we had 34 excellent short-listed submissions. What's unique about the Innovation Lions category versus others is that the candidates have to make their case on stage. Each presenter gets ten minutes to make the pitch, followed by ten minutes for questions.

But don't be fooled. Extra time doesn't always translate into advantage. Most had already prepped incredibly tight two-minute video overviews. If you merely embellish what's already known, the odds stack against you. A few strong entries in the first round simply didn't know what to do with the full ten minutes of pitch time.

Watching the presentations reminded me the possibilities are endless for driving innovation. We saw everything. Virtual reality applications -- from Oculus to crazy-smart uses of mobile phones -- were in strong supply. Talking robots -- including one that reads emotion -- roamed the stage wooing votes. Safety was big. And there were way more applications than I ever imagined to save or improve the world. Japan and China stood out among submissions. A few submissions didn't make the cut because the Japanese member of our jury politely reminded us that innovation hit Japan years ago.

Luxottica, an Italian eyewear company, sponsored an app allowing parents to self-diagnose their kids' eyesight. A startup funded by Chinese search engine powerhouse Baidu took "sensor-based" chopsticks to the next level. BioRanger helps diagnose problems with crops in a matter of days versus weeks or months. Australia's Optus took a major bite out of ocean safety with a nifty shark radar called "Clever Buoy."

But what really screamed -- especially among the big winners, and certainly our Grand Prix winner -- was the power of simplicity. In fact, during the pre-award jury press conference, I noted that the jury's final selection represented, in essence, the "triumph of simplicity over technology."

So, for instance, our Grand Prix winner What3Words provides an innovative global addressing system that can basically translate geo-location coordinate gobblygook into, well, three words. So, say you want to deliver products or aid to a precise location in a Brazilian favela, you simple type bells.landmark.tip. Yes, there is big data behind it all, but the benefit rivals Google search in add-water-and-stir simplicity.

One favorite among the judges, and a Lion winner, was called "Life Saving Dot" by Talwar Bindi that uses the "bindi" -- a traditional beauty ornament in India -- to address iodine deficiency.

So yes, amid the tech wiring, data streams and programmatic connections dancing around us, simple ideas matter more than ever. Fundamentals ensure. And resistance is futile.

In the end, the jury experience rocked -- highly recommended. My only big regret is that my father, a now deceased original Mad Men whom I wrote about in an earlier Ad Age column, could have been here to join me the process.

Then again, had he been there, he too would have reminded me about the fundamentals. "Son, despite all this new shiny stuff out there," he'd say, "keep the messaging and benefits simple, clear, and compelling."


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