The dust has finally settled on Cannes Lions, the festival of creativity for the advertising and marketing industry that takes place annually in June. This year, I was lucky enough to go. And amid the extravagance (apparently pared down this year), yachts, and parties, were endless examples of creative brilliance.

One of my biggest takeaways was about the kind of campaigns that not only win awards but truly connect with an audience, too. At their heart, yes, is a bold and original idea. But so often in the journey from inception to execution, the original idea gets diluted and adapted until only the essence of it remains.

The most memorable and meaningful campaigns connect with their intended audiences, like this Lighter Blue campaign tackling depression.
The most memorable and meaningful campaigns connect with their intended audiences, like this Lighter Blue campaign tackling depression.

The campaigns that inspired me were the ones where I could imagine the creatives having many tough conversations to retain their original bold idea, holding onto their dogged belief that this thing will work — it will resonate — and convincing a client to believe as well.

Last year’s big winner, the Fearless Girl campaign, which remains the most highly honoured campaign in the history of Cannes Lions with four Grand Prix and 18 Lions in total, is an obvious example. If you’ve been living in a cave, Fearless Girl is the bronze statue conceived and created by McCann in New York for State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), that stood facing down the Charging Bull in Bowling Green in the financial district of New York for a year. She was recently moved to her own permanent location elsewhere in the city.

McCann picked up three more awards this year for the impact the campaign had. A few of the highlights:

  • Fearless Girl inspired Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to reintroduce her Gender Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act.
  • Following Fearless Girl’s launch, 152 major companies have added women to their boards and an additional 34 have pledged to do so.
  • It received more than 1 billion Twitter impressions in one hour.
  • And the business outcome: SSGA’s SHE fund saw a 384% increase in average daily trading volume in the week following launch.

And do you know what the original brief from State Street asked for? A print advertising campaign. McCann believed they could do something more impactful that would reach more people, and it held firm.

Fearless Girl continues to get a lot of attention. But McCann also won this year for a campaign that didn’t get as many headlines but is no less brave. The Lighter Blue campaign for Takeda/Trintellix won a Silver Lion at this year’s Cannes Festival in the Disease and Awareness Regulated Pharma category.

The brief was to tackle the stigma still surrounding depression; sufferers are reluctant to reach out for help and this in turn breeds misunderstanding. Most attempts to raise awareness consist of sombre messaging that, McCann quite rightly pointed out in its entry, is a bit, well, depressing.

Its response was an unbranded Facebook campaign, telling the story of Blue — an animated character, who, like those who suffer from depression, feels isolated and struggles to function. The difference is he and his friends use humour to tackle the truths about depression.

McCann proposed Facebook due to its broad reach. The Lighter Blue page was populated with humorous illustrated posts and videos, motivational memes, health tips, and news.

The results surpassed all expectations. Visitors to the page opened up and shared their own stories and engaged with the content online. This year, engagements reached more than 10 million, with large numbers of shares, reactions, and comments. The campaign had clearly struck a nerve in a positive way, actually becoming a thriving online community and proving the old adage that humour is the great leveller.

However, at many points along the way, the approach could have been shot down — the pharmaceutical industry, with good reason, is very cautious. Using humour to tackle a subject like depression would not have been an easy sell. But it’s based on an understanding of human nature. With any piece of work, as writers, marketers, or advertisers, we’re trying to connect with a human being at the end of it.

If you have an idea you think is going to do that, I say it’s worth fighting for.