Hump day at Cannes Lions week has identified more trends than a Bondi hipster. To kick things off, today’s awards threw up fascinating new directions for brands to pursue. We laughed through Conan O’Brien and Shaquille O’Neal’s Q&A on celebrity in the social media age. We discovered the impact being made on brands by campaigners for equality and diversity, including Jay-Z with a Music Lions Grand Prix-winning film. And honestly, how often do you get to hear from the CMOs of both Unilever and P&G on the same day? 

Apple’s pull on the marketing world remains as strong as ever, with the brand winning Grand Prix in both the Entertainment for Music category with its HomePod film, as well as the Brand Experience and Activation category for its retail strategy. 

The HomePod ‘Welcome Home’ film is a fantastic example of the increasingly blurred lines between advertising and entertainment. “The debate raged on all week about whether this was an ad or a music video,” the jury president Lori Feldman, EVP strategic marketing at Warner Bros Records USA said of the judging process. 

Apple commissioned film director Spike Jonze to shoot the ad, which doubled as a music video featuring a singer (FKA twigs) dancing to someone else’s song (Anderson Paak’s ’Til It’s Over’). It was a massive cultural crossover, yet its brand was central “in such a simple and unique way”, added Feldman. 

The tech giant is setting trends in retail too, with the Brand Experience & Activation judges thoroughly digging its reimagining of retail stores as educational town squares, with free presentations, lessons and entertainment. 

“It really defines what brand experience can be,” said jury president Rob Reilly, global creative chairman at McCann Worldgroup. “In a time when retail is dying, Apple is figuring out how to play a meaningful role in people’s lives.”

It’s not just Apple going in new directions though. Microsoft was lauded in the Creative Ecommerce category, introduced to Cannes Lions this year, for an initiative that gave Xbox players the chance to make money by designing their own Xbox controller. It opened its e-commerce platform for them and gave them free rein to customise the colours and names of their designs. 

“Microsoft turned customers into entrepreneurs,” said jury president Nick Law, chief creative officer at Publicis Groupe. “Everyone got what they wanted; it was very elegant.”

What’s more, the campaign proved a fantastic example of how to leverage a brand to create conversation with real purpose, as controller designs surfaced paying tribute to everything from breast cancer awareness to marriage equality.

Another piece of work that offers a format deserving of export was the Entertainment category winner, which used the modern format of vlogging to engage today’s schoolchildren with the childhood memories of Dutch WWII survivors. Dutch telecoms giant KPN and agency N=5 commissioned production companies to create a series of vlogs from a boy named Geert, recording blogs as the war closed in on his home. 

Entertainment for Music Grand Prix (Brands, Social, Craft, Technology & Experience)

‘Welcome Home’ for Apple HomePod by TBWA\MediaArts Lab Los Angeles

Entertainment for Music Grand Prix (Music Content)

‘Jay-Z “Smile”’ music video for Roc Nation by Smuggler New York and Roc Nation

How did Australia do in the Entertainment for Music Lions? 

No prizes

Brand Experience & Activation Grand Prix

‘Today at Apple’ for Apple retail stores by Apple Cupertino

Australia’s performance in the Brand Experience & Activation Lions?

Gold Lion to ‘Palau Pledge’ for Palau Legacy Project by Host/Havas Sydney

Entertainment Grand Prix

‘Evert_45’ for KPN by N=5 Amsterdam

Gold Lion to ‘Stop the Horror’ for Go Gentle Australia by Cummins & Partners Sydney and History Will Be Kind Sydney

Bronze Lion to ‘Losers Paradise’ for Air New Zealand by Host/Havas Sydney

Creative Ecommerce Grand Prix

‘XBox Design Lab Originals: The Fanchise Model’ for Microsoft by McCann London

How did Australia do in the Creative Ecommerce Lions? 

Bronze Lion to ‘Making the List’ for Lego Australia by CHE Proximity Melbourne

So, our national instrument featured in a wisecracking exchange between ginger talk show host Conan O’Brien and deep-voiced NBA star Shaquille O’Neal. 

“We’re on this weird Swedish talk show set and Shaq’s got a weird microphone,” O’Brien mock-complained to their host, CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo, in the Turner Broadcasting-led session. 

“Because of the acoustics I can’t hear a word Shaq is saying through that thing, I just hear a low bass hum. I don’t know what you two are talking about, I just hear ‘whum whum whum’ like someone’s blowing on an Australian didgeridoo.” 

Yes, this session did also have some relevance to marketing, in that it examined how the stars have been using the internet to amplify and extend their personal brands, and also to do paid content for other brands and products. 

We learned that Shaq would refuse a $10m offer to promote Spam, because he hates it, while Conan wouldn’t. “Are they here?” he asked. 

Their point was that they would not doing tie-ups that don’t feel authentic to them and their personal brand, but Conan made the additional point that authenticity can run two ways. He praised Taco Bell’s marketing team for being relaxed about footage of him doing a tasting tour of their new products and pretending to have a choking fit upon biting into one while the marketers were there. 

His conversion to social media in 2010 refreshed his career and he loves the huge reach and two-way dialogue that’s possible with digital video as opposed to the one-way broadcast of the old-style late night TV talk-show.

“I’ve been doing this 25 years and I’m more excited about the work I’m doing than at any time,” he told the audience. “If some material doesn’t work on the internet it’s not a big deal, but if you make a connection it’s explosive.”

Athletes are also getting in on the trend of connecting to their fans more frequently and directly, we heard in a session chaired by Jaymee Messler, co-founder of The Players’ Tribune, a four-year old company that helps them do just that. 

USA women’s soccer superstar Abby Wambach and Olympic bronze medallist fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who became the first woman to compete in the competition wearing a hijab, talked about how they use their platform to advance causes that mean a lot to them. 

Muhammad, who was born in the US, is interested in racial inclusion and famously inspired Mattel to create the first Barbie with a hijab when it released a version of the doll based on her last year. 

Wambach was vocal about her desire to see brands and business do more for women’s equality. 

“The biggest question right now is how do we fix the problem of women and leadership in business and government? I think brands are excited about this but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. All brands have to figure out who they are values-wise. Their internal values need to match the demographic of their employees and who is representing their company. Too often brand say they support equal opportunities and diversity causes but they’re not showcasing it internally.”

And that brings us neatly to the P&G chief branding officer Marc Pritchard and how he used his session to restate his support for the crusade for gender equality in the advertising industry and advertising itself. 

Hip Hop’s first lady and film producer Queen Latifah, journalist and TV anchor Katie Couric and advertising agency chief Madonna Badger were all on stage too. Pritchard invited them to tell the audience their stories about breaking through and changing male-dominated worlds and also talked about how they had inspired him to lead change at P&G. 

He told the audience that progress on gender equality in advertising was still “frustratingly slow” and “we want to inspire each and every one of you to be agents of change like these women”. 

“The [US] Association of National Advertisers [which he chairs currently] found that 32 per cent of chief marketing officers are women, 33 per cent of creative directors are women, and only 10 per cent of commercials and content are produced by women. So we clearly do not have gender equality in the creative pipeline. We have to ask how can we have equality in creative output if we don’t have equality in creative input.”

“The same ANA study showed that gender-equal ads performed 10 per cent better in trust and equity ratings and 26 per cent better in terms of sales growth. At P&G our best-performing brands have the most gender-equal campaigns: Always ‘Like a Girl’, SKII ‘Change Destiny’, Olay ‘Live Fearlessly’. 

“I’m optimistic because it feels like we’re getting ever so close to that tipping point. Let’s double down, come together and all be agents of change to push beyond the tipping point and achieve gender equality in the creative world,” Pritchard appealed.

As if to underline that marketing giants are becoming increasingly activist, Unilever CMO Keith Weed also made a pledge earlier in the day. The FMCG giant has become increasingly worried about “bad apples” in the world of influencer marketing, which lead to Weed proclaiming that the company would no longer work with influencers who were found to have bought followers, or who had bots amplifying their reach and engagement figures. 

Like P&G, Unilever is a believer in the power of corporate purpose, and Weed also used his session to talk about its strategy of acquiring “purposeful” and sustainability-focused start-ups – such as Dermalogica, Sundial and Grom – and keeping their founders on board. 

“Our sustainable living and purpose-focused brands, including Dove and Hellman’s are growing 46 per faster than the rest of our business and delivering 70 per cent of our growth. So for those people who say what’s the economic case for purpose and sustainability, there’s your answer.”

And there, dear readers, we are going to leave you on Day Three. We have an economic case to make for several glasses of rosé. Back tomorrow, we promise.