This time of year, my imagination always needs a little recharging. And Cannes Lions flips that switch.

I just returned from the global creativity festival — and my mind is racing. Amidst the swirl of presentations, panels, awards analysis and impromptu conversations along the Croisette, I picked up plenty of ideas to challenge my perspective and help me think more creatively.

I’ve chosen 10 top takeaways from Cannes Lions 2019 that I hope will inspire your thinking, too.

Here are the first five.

Welcome signs Cannes Lions 2019

1. Context is crucial

Things can change, sometimes very quickly. A good example of a brand attempting to adapt to changing societal norms is Gillette’s “The best men can be.” Created in the era of #MeToo, the campaign was a contemporary approach to its decades-old “The best a man can get” theme. Campaign planners spoke in a session on storytelling to share lessons learned about how to become more relevant as conversations shift.

Lessons included:

  • Always ask: where is our brand in the context of now?
  • Brands don’t talk about brands the way people talk about brands.
  • To ensure your message resonates, you must first take the time to understand how others think and talk about your brand.
  • Listening enables you to get clear about the context.

2. Subtlety attracts

Compelling stories don’t always have to jump off the screen to be effective. Sometimes the best way to attract an audience is through nuance. The Lincoln/Matthew McConaugheycampaign is a good example of how cultivating a “lean in” experience can build audience engagement.

The well-known celebrity campaign took a decidedly different approach, using the actor not as a pitch man talking about Corinthian leather and burled wood, but as the leading man in an unfinished storyline told through paid media, digital and social channels. The intriguing narrative not only featured McConaughey, but also a bull named Cyrus, a treasure map and a high-stakes poker game.

The result was huge audience engagement as consumers – and high-profile programs such as Ellen and SNL – tried to make sense of the mysterious campaign. It underscores the value of putting “…” into the script and keeping the audience guessing.

3. Pave the way

The conversation on gender equality and inclusion is more intense than ever before. The Female Quotient launched a new campaign at Cannes that caught my eye called #MakeEqualityMoves. The focus of the campaign is to challenge companies, leaders and individuals to level the playing field for women, especially to help more women reach the top of their profession and their earning potential.

I liked the very specific and bold suggestions such as: “Add diversity requirements in your request for proposal during supplier section” and “Place an interruption bell in every meeting room to ensure all voices are heard.” It left me asking myself what more I could do to pave the way for other women to become leaders, entrepreneurs and CEOs.

Cannes Lions 2019 Equality

This is a good read on the gender pay gap, which is a persistent and vexing problem across many different industries for a variety of reasons.

4. Unstereotyping made easy

One of my favorite sessions was a workshop on creating more progressive gender roles in communication. Sponsored by The Unstereotype Alliance, this session proposed a three-part storytelling framework to help ensure a more balanced, resonant message in the creative process:

  • Presence – who is being featured
  • Perspective – who is framing the story
  • Personality – depth of character

Some of my favorite learnings:

  • Proper presence looks like purposefully rethinking the stereotypes for men and women, such as “macho man” and traditional domestic roles. Allow your characters to adopt more interesting, diverse roles.
  • Powerful perspective can look like allowing women to frame the narrative more often. Let your audience see things from their point of view and include their observations on the world vs the world always observing them.
  • Use beauty as a way to show personality rather than physical attraction. A good example is this Dove beauty spot, and my favorite quote is “My face has nothing to do with my boxing.”

5. Be who you are

One of the benefits of Cannes is the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives and debate ideas with others. There was one moment, in particular, that got me thinking.

It came in the unstereotyping workshop. We were asked to assess how well campaigns observed the three P’s. Robust debate ensued over the Lynx campaign “Find your magic” Does it empower men or continue to perpetuate stereotypes about physical attractiveness?

As communicators, we must remember to stay true to a brand’s proposition or the message won’t resonate. As a brand, Axe has always focused on physical attraction. So the question here is, can they be authentic in that focus while doing it in a better way? Is this spot a step forward for the brand? Take a look at this spot and see what you think.

I’ll share five more top takeaways from Cannes in the next post. Stay tuned.

Elise Mitchell Cannes Lions 2019
Elise Mitchell at Cannes Lions 2019