Jean-Claude Van Damme may or may not have rang in 2013 with a toast and the solemn vow: "My splayed legs and I WILL front the brand world's biggest video this year!" But damn if the Muscles from Brussels didn't do exactly that, starring in "Epic Split," a video that became one of the year's biggest viral hits, a demonstration of the power of product-driven (ha) marketing, and proof that any product category can be interesting in the right hands (or thighs).
The viral smash, part of Volvo's ongoing "Live Test" campaign is one of the likely big winners at the Cannes Festival of Creativity, the ad world's biggest award show and conference taking place June 15-21 in France.
Of course, the video wows for the stunning physical and mechanical (and musical) feat on display. But that's not all that's notable about the "Live Tests" campaign. Here was a deeply unsexy, potentially forgettable B-to-B assignment, brought to life by a marketing team that realized that to make any mark with its truck-driving targets, they needed to transcend a traditional B-to-B mindset. Step one was bringing the job to a top creative agency not exactly known for its B-to-B aesthetic. The agency in turn capitalized on the simple insight that truck drivers are not immune to emotions and peer influence (you can read more about the making of the campaign in our upcoming story).
Volvo set itself up for success by building a campaign around Internet-friendly stunts, but then completely surpassed our wildest stunt expectations by orchestrating a series of thrilling tests of Volvo trucks' performance and engineering integrity. The stunts—a tightrope walk between two moving trucks, a Volvo truck and Volvo CEO dangling high above an icy harbor—were genuinely death-defying but they were also rock-solid product demonstrations, unlike some of the gratuitous scare-vertising we've seen lately (seriously people, someone is going to get stabbed. Just stop).
Another video, driven by a deft use of technology and digital design, will loom large in the Cannes results. "Sweetie," from the children's rights organization Terre des Hommes and Dutch agency Lemz is a remarkable, computer-generated, little girl who lured digital predators in a creative effort to reduce web-cam sex tourism. Sweetie was born when Lemz co-founder Mark Woerde was struck by an article about child predators online and the seeming inability of authorities to address the problem. Lemz, along with animators at Motek Entertainment and Brekel 3D and digital creatives at MediaMonks created the realistic-looking Sweetie and the supporting campaign which would ensnare 1,000 online predators. "I strongly believe that this campaign has made predators aware that they are taking a grave risk when they go online and abuse kids. They now understand that people with resources and dedication are working to stop them," Woerde told us (read more of the fascinating story behind the campaign in our upcoming feature).
The work of another proactive creative force, Mick Ebeling, will also be in contention for an Innovation Lion. Launched last year, the Innovation Lion recognizes "the breakthrough technology and innovation that may allow brands, technologists and creatives to communicate with their customers in a new way, or might stand alone as significant innovation in their own right." Ebeling's Project Daniel, created out of his Not Impossible Labs and with the backing of Intel, has already been shortlisted for a Lion and is a strong contender for a win. Here's another project that was born from its creator's visceral reaction to a news story—in this case, the story of Daniel, a Sudanese teen who lost his arms in that country's ongoing war—and the determination to do something, even if for one person. Ebeling (who previously spearheaded the creation of The Eyewriter, a device that helps people with paralysis to communicate just by using their eyes), and a team that included American doctor Tom Catena, Robohand inventor Richard van As, and experts in prosthetics and physical therapy, set up the world's first 3-D printing prosthetic lab and training facility in South Sudan, which made Daniel a new arm (read more about the project here).
Cannes continues to grow its mandate (and the number of award categories—new this year: product design, which seemed to be covered off by the existing Design and Innovation categories, but whatever) and attendees will hear from celebrities ranging from Courtney Love and Gisele Bundchen to Bono and Jonny Ive. Amid this expansive, and expanding, celebration of creativity, it's heartening to see award contenders that were driven by creative problem solving applied to our most pressing issues. Next year, we'll be expecting to see more of these ambitious initiatives, with more and bigger brands involved from the start.
See more of our Cannes predictions in the gallery above.