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How culture and tech are changing brand experience at Cannes Lions

In 1954, TV was still a new technology - and so was the art of advertorial film making. A group of cinema and TV advertising contractors decided that the art of advertorial filmmaking deserved recognition - so they set up International Advertising Film Festival where they would award the best work with a trophy of a Lion. 65 years later, this festival lives on as the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

At the first awards 65 years ago, there were two categories for winners: TV and cinema. In 2019, there are 27 different specialist Lions - and this year, I’ve had the privilege of being the jury president for the Brand Experience & Activation Lions.

I’ve been thinking about the complicated nature of brand experience, and how we deal with categories in advertising. Our industry has changed through the years and has been disrupted through new technologies, our work has become increasingly siloed. Every new technology that impacts our industry, from TV to the dawn of digital and the rise of smartphones, is treated in isolation.

More specialists, more new breeds of agency, more categories for awards. But less strategic understanding of the full brand experience.

Many brands and agencies have created incredible brand experiences throughout history - but this has often been without necessarily realising the full extent of their work. Clear visions of the complete brand experience have been hindered by the silos we operate in, the full picture requires us to think beyond these categories.

Tech allows brands to understand and connect with audiences in ways that would have unfathomable in the past. But equally, this tech has made our thinking more disconnected than ever.

So what is the first rule when assessing brand experience?

Understand that old labels mean nothing. Don’t think of your brand’s communications through binary dividers like physical activation or digital OTT. These labels are of little relevance to people in the real world - or even clients. Brand experience is all about fostering genuine connections between people and your brand - this means creating the opportunity for emotional bonds with whatever you do. As an industry, we need to move beyond channels, platforms, swimlanes and matching luggage. This is the only way to become truly creatively people-focused.

Brand experience isn’t a different problem for a different team in a different office. It’s the sum of everything we do.

Currently, it is the big tech players who are trailblazing in this department. The iconic Apple white earphones that launched the iPod continues to impress me. From that moment on, the brand turned everyone carrying an Apple product into a walking ad for Apple - even though the product itself was concealed in the person’s pocket. It’s a brand experience, it’s outdoor, it’s activation and an influencer campaign and has been going on strong for seventeen years now.

Microsoft Xbox’s 'Changing the Game', which is the 2019 Brand Experience and Activation Grand Prix, is another great example of how brand experience can redefine a category, push creative boundaries and enhance products while keeping the consumer at the centre.

The Adaptive Controller for Xbox One connected the gaming community around unlikely heroes and the simple idea that everyone should be able to play. It built an inclusive conversation that rang true to the brand and completely changed how everyone interacts with the brand.

 
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Digital and social spaces are allowing brands to reinvent their experience faster than ever. In recent years Wendy’s has undergone a complete transformation from “legacy” brand to sassy, outspoken cultural sensation and darling of the internet.

The brand has launched a hip-hop mixtape, achieved the record for most retweeted tweet of all time with #NuggsForCarter. Most recently, it entered the world of Fortnite as a player bringing the brand to life organically, and offering an entertaining experience that was true to the brand. This latest idea won the brand the 2019 Grand Prix in Social Media and Influencer.

Much has changed in the 65 years since the first iteration of Cannes Lions. Technology is constantly shaping how we create, communicate and do business. It is crucial for brands and agencies to not let these new technologies define what we do, and understand that brand experience is more than just another area of expertise for agencies or another category for awards.

Brand experience is stepping back and assessing how a combination of culture, technology and creativity, fused with the needs of our clients, is reaching consumers.

Jaime Mandelbaum is chief creative officer of VMLY&R EMEA.

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