Top Leaders Talk Cannes 2018: Soundtracks and Inspiration

Cannes Lions may have come and gone but the trends and conversations that take place often set the tone for the year ahead. We checked in with top leaders in the industry to learn more about their key takeaways from this year’s event and what topics are likely to dominate the industry for the rest of the year.

Learn what Aline Santos of Unilever, Joel Beckerman of Man Made Music, Will Swayne of Carat, Alex Underwood of Spotify, and Mina Seetharaman of The Economist Group had to say about Cannes Lions 2018 — and listen to the songs that they told us captured the essence of their individual Cannes experiences.

Aline Santos, Unilever's Global Executive VP Marketing and Head of Diversity and Inclusion

Q: If you had to pick one song to sum up your overall Cannes experience, what would it be?

A. Madame Ghandi, "The Future is Female." This artist came as a direct recommendation from Daniel and the Spotify Brands Team when we met in Cannes. It exemplifies everything that I love about how this platform elevates the voices of new, unheard and diverse artists. What's more, The Future Is Female and the lyric "fictitious depictions of girls must die out, if we want to live in a world that triumphs" is the perfect lyric to describe Unilever's Unstereotype initiative and the work we're leading with UN Women and the Unstereotype Alliance to eradicate harmful stereotypes in advertising and all forms of content.

Q: What was your overall perception of Cannes this year?

A: It's been a fantastic year. I've loved seeing the variety of winners and creative work versus previous years when one campaign dominates all categories. A few things really hit home for us at Unilever. The first is around data-driven creativity. We're proud that the Marmite Gene Project won a Gold Lion for Creative Data in Cannes. This reminds us that effective work takes both creativity and technology and that modern creativity sits in the cross hairs of art and science.

Secondly, the theme of transparency. At the beginning of the week, Unilever announced that we will no longer spend our advertising budget with influencers who “buy” followers. We believe that influencers are an important way to reach consumers and grow our brands. Certain practices like artificially inflating follower numbers undermine this relationship. It also means that we're advertising to bots and wasting money on reaching people who do not exist. We have to be sure that the campaigns we're creating are seen by real people, so you can expect to see Unilever stand by our commitments and continue to prioritise partnerships with online platforms that demonstrate the greatest commitment to increasing transparency and cracking down on bad practices.

Joel Beckerman, Founder, Composer, Producer of Man Made Music

Q: What was your overall perception of Cannes this year? Did you see any significant trends and did anything stand out the most?

A. Well, certainly there’s been a tremendous amount of curiosity and interest, as well as deep concerns, about the infiltration of smart speakers and IOT technology into people’s lives. Touchpoints where brands can’t use their primary brand communication tool—visual logos and identity – to get credit for the value they bring. If you get something great from a brand through an Alexa smart speaker, you love your Alexa. But what credit does the brand get? Clearly CMOs are thinking a lot about this and planning for this inevitable future.

Q: Tell us more about your panel. What do you think was your biggest learning from that conversation?

A. I had the honor this year of speaking on the Cannes Lions Health Insights stage about Communicating Health Stories Through Sound. We covered an array of topics ranging from the role of sonic identity in helping audiences “feel” a healthcare brand, to the role of sound and sonic semiotics in emerging health technology experiences, to VR soundtracks in treating chronic pain and anxiety. I also brought forth a prototype showing how we might sonify data to give clinicians instant information about a patient’s health state, and eliminate meaningless alarms in emergency rooms which cause one of the top safety hazards in hospital emergency rooms – Alarm Fatigue. I hope that people walked away with an understanding about how considering the sound in design can create better patient outcomes, save costs and create better experiences for patients and caregivers alike. Sound is really an underleveraged design principle in the healthcare field. My goal in all our work is to ladder up to what I call Sonic Humanism: utilizing the power of sound to make our lives richer and simpler.

Q: If you had to pick one song to sum up your overall Cannes experience, what would it be?

A. Ha! That’s easy. David Bowie’s, “Sound and Vision.”

Whether we realize it or not, every moment of our lives is scored by music and sound. It’s this hidden actor in our lives that changes our mood in an instant, guides our choices and makes or breaks our emotional connections to people, places and things. I’d just like to keep the importance of sound and vision at the forefront of creative people’s minds.

Q: What was your overall perception of marketer’s receptiveness to audio /sound/and music this year. With the rise of smart speakers, in-car listening, and the podcast explosion, did you feel that there was more interest and curiosity that previous years?

A. It’s funny you should ask! This has been hailed the year of audio, or the year of voice by so many. There’s definitely been an explosion in interest. CMOs have begun to realize that brands are disappearing visually as technology proliferates with smart speakers, podcasts, and as IOT begins to be implemented in your home. Yet everyone seems to be focused on the emerging tech platforms themselves and just thinking about the idea of literal "voice" and skills. I’m not sure our community is really thinking about the massive creative opportunity there is in not just thinking about "voice" but actually scoring experiences using sound and voice. This is a big distinction. Everyone knows how powerful a movie score is. How it immerses you in a story and helps you understand what to feel moment to moment. Scoring tech experiences like an Alexa skill — buying a movie ticket or ordering groceries for example — helps consumers "feel" satisfaction and at ease with technology, while brands get credit for experiences consumers love. That’s where we need to turn our attention. This rich realm of creative possibility.

Will Swayne, Global President, Carat

Q: What song sums up your overall Cannes experience?

A. "Infinite Content," Arcade Fire.

Q: What topics dominated the majority of your conversations this year at Cannes?

A. There was a lot of discussion about the role of brands in the digital economy. How marketing needs to create a greater balance between the top and the bottom of the funnel.

Q. We know you participated in a panel on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. What were your key learnings from the discussion?

A. My key takeaway was that it is not about a decision between AR or VR. Brands need to lean into both and test.

Alex Underwood, VP and Global Head of Strategic Partnerships and Verticals, Spotify

Q: What song sums up your overall Cannes experience?

A: "The Right Thing," Moby

Q: What was your overall impression of Cannes this year? What made it stand out from previous years?

A: I think it was one of the most business or outcome focused Cannes I have attended (perhaps unsurprisingly related to a more concentrated group of decision makers in attendance at Cannes this year).

There was also a definite trend towards "doing the right thing" as it relates to people, the consumer, the industry and the world at large. The hottest meetings and panel topics included diversity, inclusion, discrimination, and trust and viewability.

Finally, at a festival that celebrates creativity this theme also formed the core of the most successful (winning) work at the palais — with some of the biggest lions — "The Palau Pledge" and "The Trash Isles."

Mina Seetharaman, EVP Global Managing Director, Content and Marketing Solutions at The Economist Group

Q: Name one song that sums up your overall Cannes experience.

A: I’m going to cheat and pick two. First Flo Rida’s “GDFR” – because every time I hear GDPR (and rest assured, I heard it a LOT at Cannes), I immediately start hearing Flo Rida in my head.

The second is “Rise Up” by Andra Day. This is an evocative anthem of how we can carry each other through dark times; no one can be incessantly strong. When I see how #MeToo and Time’s Up/Advertising are gaining traction, and how women in the industry are using the movements to build empathy and break down the “othering” that has long happened to victims, I feel hopeful that real change in our industry can occur.

Q: What were some highlights from your discussions this year?

A: For me there seemed to be two predominant discussions at Cannes. The first was, of course, about tech, data and creativity, and whether those of us in advertising and marketing have, in fact, been too much a slave to tech and let it limit our creativity. I was glad to see people heralding the value of both; I think big data is important, but big data is not a big idea. Data can help you measure effectiveness and hone an idea, but a big idea that ladders up to a human truth or solves a real problem – this is inspiring, or even hopeful.

The other discussion that was at the forefront was, unsurprisingly, diversity. A lot of the discussion was about gender diversity but it was nice to see, in pockets, people more openly discussing racial, disability, and ethnic diversity. This year’s festival seemed less homogeneous to me than in prior years, but as an industry, we still have a long way to go.

The message that resonated most with me, though, was raised by couple of people, including Samsung’s Marc Mathieu, who sat on one of our “Wake up with The Economist” panels: embedding ethics into the things that we create. As marketers a lot of our work has significant reach and is designed to shift perceptions. If we really think about the work as powerful opportunities to change culture, we should focus less on the cool factor of new tech, for example, and more on the impact of the experiences we create.

Q: There was a lot of buzz this year about the festival being quieter and more intimate? Did you feel this was true?

A: I do feel that this year’s festival was more somber, displaying less excess – but one year of behavioral observation is hardly a trend. Personally, I think we need to head in this direction if the industry is going to recover its reputation from just being a place of Mad Men. I once attended an event where Cindy Gallop indicted Cannes Lions attendees, saying we reinforce the worst stereotypes of our industry. I can see what she is saying. It’s one thing to celebrate success and creativity, wholly another to do it to self-congratulatory excess. We have the ability, through our work as marketers, to reach millions of people. In a world of growing inequality, with globalization and liberalism under threat, imagine the impact our industry could have if we took this time together as creative talents to consider and solve big issues, rewarding the world and not just ourselves. That would be pretty worth celebrating.