Yes you Cannes: Using creativity to grow brands

Kim Malcolm, Kelsey Sullivan
A man stands in a field, looking at bales of hay, his arms raised in celebration

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is known for recognizing films, campaigns and advertisements that are highly innovative and creative. Or, as they say: championing creative excellence since 1954.

Many brands and agencies strive to create ads and campaigns that creatively grow their brand, highlight their latest innovation, or even take a stand on social issues.

But what is it that makes an ad a Cannes award-winner? The job of the judges is to award creativity, but they don't necessarily have a line of sight into what will be effective. While we may not know if the award-winning ads have accomplished the specific goals the brands set out to achieve, we can use human insights to tell us what people think of each ad. After all, it’s up to consumers to decide if a brand thrives or fails.

We conducted research on last year’s winners and found that each of them had one thing in common: they surpass the norm for uniqueness and distinctiveness — an average of 7.8 compared to an average norm of 6.9 to be exact. That’s good news — it confirms both the judges and the people agree that the winners are highly creative and have produced something they’ve never seen before.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of last year’s winners that the judges have deemed creative and the people have deemed effective.

1. “Dream Crazy” by Nike

Nike’s “Dream Crazy” advertisement was last year’s winner of Cannes Lions’ grand prix creative effectiveness award.

In the ad, athletes are shown doing things that others may deem ‘impossible’ or ‘crazy’ — from Serena Williams to Colin Kaepernick to Megan Blunk and more — inspiring others not to settle or give up because others say you can’t, whether it’s because of where you’re from, what gender you are or whether you’re a person with a disability. Their motivational message rings through: It’s only crazy until you do it. So just do it.

The ad scored high in Uniqueness (ranking 7.6 compared to the 6.9 average) and high in Overall Appeal (ranking 7.9 compared to the 7.2 average), while also having a very strong connection to the Nike brand.It’s impressive that Nike can create an ad that highlights athletes and the inspiring message to go for your dreams, without plugging a single product or awkwardly fitting the brand into the story, and viewers still know it’s a Nike ad.

It speaks very highly to the brand’s strength overall and the work that has gone into building distinctive brand assets. So not only did this ad excel in creativity and effectiveness, it also excelled in brand recognition, making Nike top of mind.Respondents reported feeling happy (49%), excited (31%) and thoughtful (20%), all ranking above the norm, while watching the ad. But what did people love exactly? Almost all of it.Here’s a few of their verbatim responses:

  • "I liked the motivation behind the ad. The dialogues were excellent. Gives the audience confidence to get back on their goal.

  • "Everything. Inclusion. Representation. Aspiration. Motivation.”

  • "Positive encouragement for anyone and everyone who wants to participate in sportsI love that it includes people with disabilities.”

2. “Can’t Touch This” by Cheetos

Cheetos’ “Can't Touch This” ad was the winner of last year’s creative strategy award. In the ad, a man was featured in a series of vignettes where he was unable to touch anything because of the Cheetos dust on his fingers, complete with MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” playing in the background.

The ad was highly distinctive, scoring high in Uniqueness (ranking 7.3 compared to the 6.9 average) as well as Brand Linkage (ranking 8.0 compared to the 7.4 average).

This indicates the creative strategy was successful given the goal was to establish a positive connection to a feature of the product (the cheese dust) and made people consider trying it — shown in the high Behavior Change score (7.6 compared to the 6.9 average).

Here’s what some of the respondents had to say:

  • “I thought it was great. I actually always love the Cheetos ads. They are so funny and inventive. I loved the mc hammer play on and you can't touch things or people when your hands are orange from eating them-which is actually true.”

  • “I loved the humor and it’s very different from other ads. I loved how clever it was too.”

  • “I liked the inclusion of "can't touch this" when it comes to having Cheeto dust on your fingers. It's very self-aware and humorously self-deprecating.”

3. “The World’s First Adaptive Deodorant...” by Degree

Degree’s “The World’s First Adaptive Deodorant” was the winner of last year’s Cannes innovation grand prix award. In the ad, several individuals without complete arms are shown boxing in a gym at full-force and working at a barbershop — activities that may have seemed difficult or considered “limiting” due to their disability.

Degree challenges these assumptions, stating, “There should be no limits when something moves us” and introduces their line of deodorant built with a diverse disability community.

Degree performed the best out of all the Cannes ads we tested. It was well loved by respondents and scored significantly above the norm across almost all measures — especially in Uniqueness (ranking 8.6 compared to the 6.9 average) and Overall Appeal (ranking 8.3 compared to the 7.2 average). Similar to Nike’s “Dream Crazy” respondents appreciated and connected to the empowering and uplifting aspects of the ad.

Here’s what some of the respondents shared:

  • “I like that it teaches someone with a disability, or even anyone struggling, that they can overcome anything they put their mind to.”

  • “It shows that there are no limits to what people with disabilities can do.”

  • “It illuminated very effectively how determination and courage can help people overcome many different types of obstacles and challenges, and that Degree is listening very carefully to this community.”

The power of creativity

It’s clear that all three of these ads were exceptionally creative and yielded high scores in uniqueness and likability. But there was also a common theme to be found across each of them: How they used their creativity and uniqueness to solve a problem at hand.

After all, winning a creative award is great, but solving a problem or changing a perspective through that creativity is the bullseye.

Nike and Degree both shared the common goal of inclusion and inspiration. Each of their ads displayed people living with disabilities or life challenges disputing limitations others may have set for them and chasing their dreams (if not exceeding them), inspiring viewers and leaving them with a positive, can-do feeling.

While for Cheetos, it was more of a brand achievement that to many may seem impossible. They were able to take an attribute of their product that was previously deemed negative (being stuck with cheesy dust on your fingers) and turn it into something positive: a reason to get out of doing the things you don’t want to!

All three brands used the creativity within their ads to solve something and change our perspectives on a matter — showing us all the power creativity can truly hold.

Looking ahead

With the 2022 Cannes awards festival happening this week, what can we expect to see from the winners this time around? Will more of them include brands that take a stand on social issues? Or will they include brands that flip negative perceptions on their head? Or something else entirely? We can’t wait to find out!

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about how Zappi can help you create ads people love, click here.