"Be unapologetic about what you do for living."
That was the message that Prasoon Joshi, president of the Titanium and Integrated Jury (and the first person from Asia to lead this jury), shared on stage on the final night of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity recently.
There are more categories now than you can memorize. Newer categories are not very "advertising"—yet the work that gets recognized at the festival is more "advertising" than ever. And there are more overlaps across categories. Confusion was far more prevalent this year than any other year I could remember.
During the week, "storytelling" or "content" were the buzzwords heard, quoted, and exhaustingly overused. Yet, there was no Grand Prix given in Branded Content and Entertainment or Film Craft—the two categories that should be highlighting the best of storytelling and content. On the other hand, the Cyber category alone had three Grand Prix—all of which are extremely well executed but perhaps more reflective of where we were five years ago than where we are headed. And some categories’ Grand Prix were more head-scratchers than clear statements.
In addition, in an industry that preaches the importance of the Big Idea, there was less understanding—possibly by the juries—of what makes an integrated campaign based on a compelling big idea great vs. what makes its element great. Is it the print ad and the TV ad of "Sorry, I Spent It On Myself" for Harvey Nichols that are so Grand Prix-worthy in Press and Film? Or is it the larger idea that's actually the real substance—as recognized, deservedly, in the Integrated category?
Out of this chaos, confusion, and contradiction, though, one thing became clear to me even more than ever: the future belongs to Geeks and Freaks.
And it's Geeks and Freaks, not Geeks or Freaks.
First, why Geeks?
Outside of the ad industry, geeks get much love and respect. Undoubtedly, for several decades now, geeks have been building the future. In our industry, though, geeks get pushed aside, or rather, pushed back to the very last phase of an assignment at most agencies.
In addition to this, the word data solicits completely opposing reactions: marketers love it. Creatives hate it.
Data is essentially a body of facts or information. That's why marketers love it—precisely because it's facts about the world we live in. And from facts come truth.
But data is the opposite of magic and inspiration. It's seen as something that kills creativity. Over some rosè, I was chatting with creative directors from a few different countries. One jokingly commented "How many more categories can Cannes add? There will be a Data category next year. That's f***king crazy." Furthermore, there are very vocal and influential critics of data and technology—as Sir John Hegarty proclaimed during the festival.
Throughout the week, I didn't see much winning work that celebrated data and technology.
Until the final night when "Sound of Honda" won Grand Prix in Titanium.
Created by Dentsu and Rhizomatiks in Tokyo, this piece attempted the impossible: recreate the fastest lap 20 years ago run by Ayrton Senna, the legendary Brazilian F-1 driver killed in a racing accident.
The origin of this idea is data. The team, mostly composed of geeks, started the idea by gathering the sound data from 20 years ago. From there, by re-imagining the race track where Senna ran the historic lap as if it were a three-dimensional musical sheet, the team beautifully and poetically visualized the data onto that sheet in a physical world and documented it.
The significance of "Sound of Honda" isn't so much the final outcome. Rather, it's what went into it: data as a starting point and collaboration of data scientists with creatives and technologists.
Data is really just numbers—and that's perhaps why it gets a bad rap. But through data, you can discover unexpected truth and authenticity of the invisible world around us. It can uncover human behavior that we may not see. And when you combine that with human creativity and imagination, it can result in something magical and emotional, as "Sound of Honda" demonstrated.
Maybe it's more "Cyber" and forward-thinking than other Grand Prix in this year's Cyber category.
Second, why Freaks?
Artistically oriented industries tend to be filled with those who didn't fit in. Whether it's music, film, art, or design, we were often the ones on the side of the classroom (not in the back because we weren't cool enough). Our notebooks were filled with bad doodles and sketches, cheesy lyrics and poems. We often failed and dropped out.
The good news is that as we grew out of adolescence, we got a little more respect if we worked hard enough in the right context.
However, though, geeks in the tech and business world don't give much respect to freaks. Geeks are usually much academically smarter than us artsy types. They don't even like to work with us, for the most part—Google hires predominantly from Stanford University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the U.S. If you weren't a straight-A student, you are out of luck.
Here’s another example: Apparently, Airbnb's founders—who are designers by trade—had trouble getting funding initially because they were designers and not programmers. Talk about occupational prejudice.
What if geeky and business types were told this: Picture Jean-Claude Van Damme, an over-the-hill action star, doing his famous split between trucks, scored by the music of Enya, another outdated musician (the premise of the Grand Prix-winning "Epic Split" for Volvo). They would have the same reaction the creative director had about data: "That's f***king crazy."
By the way, the ability to bring together those completely uncool, irrational elements, against a beautiful sunset with the camera slowly panning and a poetically written script narrated by the star himself and a new-age song—that, to me, is nothing but the best Film Craft I've seen this year.
There is an obvious increase of machines replacing humans lately. In 2012, IBM's Watson beat two previous human champions of Jeopardy and won a million dollars.
But would Watson think of combining trucks, Van Damme, and Enya? Probably not (for now).
The reality of technology is that it's already replacing humans. But technology shouldn't replace humanity. Oftentimes, geeks create technology for the sake of technology.
What freaks can remind them of is that technology should serve humanity.
Alan Kay, the famous technologist and futurist said this: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
If geeks and freaks pay a little more respect to each other, if we're a little more unapologetic about who we are and what we do, sit together and try a little harder to get along, and embrace the notion of Art & Code a little more wholeheartedly to solve business and human problems, not only can we create the future, we can make it better—together.
And imagine if geeks and freaks rose to the occasion and became the business leaders of the 21st century.
We would be unstoppable.