Some pundits say the advertising industry is in big trouble, its business model is broken, the "big idea" is dead, it can’t do tech and so on. There is no shortage of pessimism and, it has to be said, some of it is valid. The days of an award-laden creative chief ensconced in his (always, his) corner office overseeing a couple of 60-second blockbuster TV ads per year, costing the client millions, are more or less over. It's no secret that the industry has struggled to adapt quickly enough to the changing world.
But if the excellence of the ideas that took the 2016 Future Lions, the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival's student awards, is anything to go by, hope is at hand.
The Future Lions began in 2006 and is a collaboration between the Festival and agency AKQA. Anyone in full-time education may enter and this year, more than 1,900 students from 69 countries did.
In the brief, students were given the theme "Start Something" and asked to use means that were not possible three years ago. But is what they’ve come up with actually possible in reality? AKQA group creative director, Ian Wharton, explains that one of the tasks of the judging process is to test remarkable ideas, go into research and validate the concept. Ideas that are simply wishful thinking do not make the cut.
Entries are judged by AKQA’s Future Lions Council and guest judges from Google (the event’s sponsor) and Cannes Lions. Wharton says the key to winning the competition is, "The ones that can best look at a brand, understand how it operates, how its audiences behave, and then create an appropriate, meaningful application of technology to serve it.
"Every winning idea, not one of them has communicated with the brand before the ideas were made," he adds, "It is their own thoughts about how these brands should operate in the world."
Wharton takes us through the winners and explains why they came out on top.
Tackling food waste: A food container that uses a smart sensor developed to address bacterial production. An indicator changes color to show how much time is left before the food spoils.
Team: Filip Myringer, Amelie Farmer, Olga Lillienau, Sofia Bleiweiss, and Ebba von Zweigbergk
School: Berghs School of Communication, Sweden
Why it won: "Firstly, the insight, worldwide we waste so much food, it's a sharp understanding. Secondly, it shows a brilliant grasp of how Ikea operates as a brand. They’re introducing really quite a small step, a simple piece of ingenuity for a company that has complete relevance with the concept. This one wins for its simplicity and total comprehension of Ikea and how it would communicate with its audience."
An AI voice interface that lives within the Amazon Echo. Emma specializes in assisting seniors and aims to help combat loneliness and isolation.
Team: Yanci Wu and Xia Du
School: VCU Brandcenter, United States
Why it won: "If you strip everything back, the purpose of technology is to make human connections. What I love about this is it targets a global issue, which is the aging population, and there is a whole host of research showing that we are not serving this population. Here is a group of students using technology to connect a disconnected group of people in a very human way and voice is absolutely the right way to do that rather than complex interaction. It’s a very beautiful way to tackle isolation."
An app inside Facebook Messenger that reads books to children as if they were talking to a friend.
Team: Jiwon Ko, Miyeon Shin, Seonhaeng Lee, and Haeyoon Jhun
School: Kookmin University, Hongik University, Chung-ang University/Big Ant Academy, all South Korea
Why it won: "Everyone in this industry is seeking "engagement" and what we tend to do is forget the most important thing in a brand’s ability to communicate, which is context. Often what brands and agencies do is try and fight context, and force themselves in front of an audience. What this group of students has done is, instead of fighting context, they’ve created a brilliant way for an audience to digest, learn, and just be entertained."
An in-store machine that suggests new sets based on someone’s existing collection. They can pick a set of their liking and collect any missing bricks from the ‘pick-a-brick’ section of the store. The machine sorts and repackages the Lego to match the chosen set.
Team: Petter Monsen, Tomas Möller, Axel Lokrantz Månsson, Kristofer Gullard Lindgren, and Simon Kraft
School: Beckmans College of Design, Sweden
Why it won: "Incredibly strong idea, it adds longevity to a person’s ability to impart their creativity using that brand. The great thing about this is the depth of thought because they’ve considered how to get people back into the retail store. The idea that you might only need two or three new bricks to make something totally new is brilliant."
Learning language using song lyrics. When a user scans the words they’d like to learn, Spotify creates a personal playlist matching the chosen words with songs where they most frequently appear.
Team: Sebastian Brännén and Maria Lashari
School: Berghs School of Communication, Sweden
Why it won: "It is incredibly difficult to learn a language if you try and do it in the wrong way. For better or worse, lyrics do stay in people’s heads. It's a great way of combining something you enjoy passionately with something to which you need to be receptive. It shows quite an intense understanding of psychology and they’ve executed brilliantly."
Stockholm’s Berghs School of Communication won the prize for School of the Year, which was presented by Torsten Schuppe, senior director, brand and consumer marketing EMEA at Google.
Wharton concludes: "Each year we see a certain trend, last year for example, through serendipity, all of the winners were worthy causes, they were trying to save or change the world in one way or another. This year it is much more about providing richness of life.
"One thing the industry misses, on the whole, is empathy, how does a certain audience behave, how can we approach them that’s not intrusion but actually in a useful way? It is remarkable to see students who have no experience of the industry do things that way."
The winners each received a Future Lions trophy in front of an audience of thousands at the Cannes Festival Palais. There’s no prize other than the trophy and la gloire. However, Wharton says that over the decade the competition has been running, 99% of the winners have gone on to work in some of the most respected agencies and companies in the world.
"The reason we do Future Lions is because it’s so important to remind ourselves of the importance of youth in creativity. I mean that not solely as age but also in outlook," he says. "This youthful way of approaching creativity, which is brave and not policed is a perfect reminder to the industry of how we should be thinking."
When it's put that way, it's possible to see how the advertising industry could have a much brighter future than some are predicting.