As the sun sets on another year of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and the clinking of rose glasses becomes a distant memory, VML Intelligence reflects on the key trends and takeaways emerging from a week of talks.

This year’s event urged the industry to embrace courageous creativity, reminding us that although advertising will undoubtedly be reshaped by AI, some things will always remain essential: humanity, humor, emotion and human connection.

Dip into our six themes for 2024:

1. AI co-pilots

The transformative impact of AI on creative industries was once more a central theme at this year’s Festival. But thus far, AI’s main contribution seems to center on efficiency and timesaving.

Tech executives were keen to underline how AI could work in tandem with creatives. Alex Schultz, chief marketing officer and vice-president of analytics at Meta, argued that “by harnessing AI, we believe we can free ourselves from mundane tasks and focus on the aspects of our work that require genuine creativity,” adding that “we need to remember that we are the drivers, AI is the copilot.”

Microsoft’s corporate VP of AI at work Jared Spataro said AI would “lift the drudgery, empowering us to reclaim valuable time and energy” and summed it up as “a tool to broaden the creative aperture, giving you more time, more space, more capabilities to bring your stories to life.”

Google also focused on AI’s support role. “The future of creativity isn’t just about AI, it’s about AI and us,” said Vidhya Srinivasan, VP and general manager of ads. Google showcased its text-to-video AI tool, Veo, and Project Astra, which the company describes as “the future of AI assistants that can process multimodal information, understand the context you’re in, and respond naturally in conversation.”

L'Oréal Creaitech

Brands are getting to work with AI as part of their creative toolbox, however. L'Oréal’s chief digital and marketing officer Asmita Dubey showcased the beauty giant’s approach to generative AI for new consumer services and media buying as well as its “CreAItech” gen AI beauty content lab - a space for experimentation with new tools for content creation. Pet food company Pedigree also leveraged the capabilities of AI for its Grand Prix winning campaign Adoptable (in the Corporate Purpose and Social Responsibility category). The brand deployed a stable diffusion machine learning model to create personalized ads of shelter dogs for adoption using geotargeting and first-party data.

Some speakers introduced a note of caution, like Maria Ressa, CEO of Philippines news site Rappler. The recipient of the 2024 Cannes LionHeart, awarded to a person who has used their position for positive impact, drew parallels between AI’s potential to distort the truth with her own experiences standing up to a political dictatorship. And the specter of an AI apocalypse was raised once more in Elon Musk’s conversation with WPP CEO Mark Read. Musk said he believed there was a 10-20% chance of “something terrible happening.” At least, he said, “this is the most interesting time in history.”

2. Future creAItivity

There was a consensus that AI will be a powerful tool for creativity, but humanity, emotion, messiness, and realness are enduringly creative, and offer the most authentic way to connect with consumers. Indeed, the authenticity of humanity is something that many speakers argued AI can’t replicate.

Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of P&G underlined the importance of emotion and “spine-tingles” in the work. “Even with all the technology that's available to us, the answer will not be found in the data or the algorithms,” said Pritchard. “[The] answer is in the idea, which comes from the heart and the soul. AI doesn't get the spine tingles. Humanity matters.”

Writer, director, and producer Lucia Aniello, the co-creator of Hacks, noted that a joke lands “because it's true, and you know it's true because you feel that it's true, and it's a human thing…So to me, anytime I'm getting any AI…in the way of that….it's just taking the humanness out of the art, which to me, is antithetical to the purpose of why I would make it and why you would like it.”

Echoing this view, Kyle Chaka, author of Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture and staff writer at The New Yorker, added that “AI is essentially automation, and I just don't think culture can be automated…like, I don't need 1000 separate TV shows spat out by ChatGPT.”

I just don't think culture can be automated.

Kyle Chaka

Writer at the New Yorker and author of Filterworld: How algorithms flattened culture

Getty Images 2158243943 Licensed by VML
Elon Musk and Mark Read at Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity 2024 - Day Three on June 19, 2024 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images)

Also extolling the merits of human, hand-made creativity was production designer James Price, speaking with Shona Heath, production designer and set designer. The pair, who collaborated on the Academy Award-winning movie Poor Things, described how they embraced analog methods of model-making to create the film’s sets, even resorting to “just getting the photocopier out and photocopying things, coloring it in. Some of it was in Photoshop. Some of it may have even been with crayons.”

The Cannes Lions organizers shared data showing that AI was used in 12% of entries this year, so for 2024 at least, human creativity still leads – but what of the future? One dissenting voice was again, Elon Musk, who told Mark Read he is convinced that AI is capable of both creativity and originality, and that we may end up questioning our own value as a result. The tech entrepreneur predicts, “I think there will perhaps be a crisis of meaning - if the AI can do everything that you can do, but better, than what is the point of doing things?”

3. Brand showmanship

Advertising is in the midst of a “dullocalypse” according to eatbigfish’s Adam Morgan and System 1’s Jon Evans. Their session “The extraordinary cost of dull” revealed that more than half of adverts tested rate as ‘dull’, in that they trigger no emotional response, either positive or negative. This comes at a cost, said Morgan and Evans, because neutral work is less impactful. For these ads to achieve the same market growth as work that is emotionally engaging they said, would demand additional investment in the region of $189 billion.

What’s driving the tedium? Speakers pointed to the role of technology allied with the quest for scale and efficiency. Author Kyle Chayka noted the internet’s tendency towards “iterative culture,” where anything that succeeds is scaled, “is not going to result in unique, interesting culture. It's going to result in the lowest common denominator.”

Technology has helped us become efficient at things. And efficiency leads to homogeneity.

Orlando Wood

Chief innovation officer, System 1

Mattel Inc HPJ99 W 23 219 web
Disco-themed dolls launched to coincide with Barbie™ movie, courtesy Mattel, Inc.

At a fireside chat with Sir John Hegarty, Orlando Wood, chief innovation officer at System 1 called on brands to bring back showmanship, a plea that chimes with VML Intelligence data which finds that 65% of people in China, the United Kingdom and the United States now “want brands to wow them.”

Technology, said Wood, has helped us “become very efficient at things, and efficiency leads to homogeneity,” adding that “if you look at advertising and how it's changed in style over the last 20 years or so, you see this shift from advertising with narrative and characters and dialogue, that finds the magic in the product, towards the style of advertising that's very close up and very [much] relies on words on the screen, very rhythmic.”

Wood quoted Cicero’s maxim “delectare, docere, movere,” which he translated as “you have to delight, teach and entertain or move people. Those three things are absolutely key in advertising,” he said.

While Morgan urged the industry to get angry at this “tide of mediocrity” and “waste of money and waste of talent,” others, like Titanium jury president and VML CCO Debbi Vandeven, called on clients and agencies alike to “think about bravery every day.”

Architect of arguably the biggest wow of last year - the Barbie movie - was Mattel Inc’s chairman and chief executive officer Ynon Kreiz, who was named Cannes Lions Entertainment Person of the Year. In his remarks, Kreiz outlined the scale of ambition behind the Barbie phenomenon, saying “This [was] not about trying to make a movie to sell more toys. It's not even about making a movie. The goal was to create a cultural event, to create a societal moment. And this was…the way we defined it from the outset.”

4. Comic connections

From the slapstick viral moments of McDonalds’ Grimace Shake to the relatability of Wendy’s social media persona, there’s a growing appetite for levity and lolz, continuing a trend VML Intelligence observed last year.

In the year that the Festival awarded work for its use of humor for first time, System 1 analysis found that 75% of UK or US Film award winners were intentionally funny, up from 52% in 2023. Fittingly this year’s Titanium Grand Prix winner raised a smile too. DoorDash All-the-Ads offered viewers of the Super Bowl the chance to win all the products advertised. The payoff? To do so they had to enter a comedically long promo code, 1,813 characters long.

Z6 A 5361
(L-R) Chris Symmes, Debbi Vandeven, Kenan Thompson and Jon Cook at Ready to laugh again: The return of comedy at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Part of humor’s appeal lies in its ability to effortlessly cut through noise. At the VML-hosted presentation Ready to Laugh Again: The Return of Comedy, Saturday Night Live cast member Kenan Thompson shared that “if something is funny, it doesn't need to fight for your attention. You'll seek it out.” It's also a surefire way to connect with a mass audience said Thompson. “Humor disarms people. No matter what someone thinks of you or your message, a laugh is one brief moment where they drop their guard and they allow you to get a little closer, right?

The pivot to humor was reflected in other Grand Prix winning work. L’Oréal’s Michael CeraVe campaign for skincare brand CeraVe concocted a claim that the actor is secretly its creator. Anti-nausea medication brand Dramamine delivered an ode to an obsolete aviation icon in The Last Barf Bag. Specsavers’ hearing loss campaign The Misheard Version harnessed some amusing misheard lyrics to a Rick Astley classic tune to drive take-up of hearing tests.

Humor can be hard to get right, but social media can provide the perfect testing ground to experiment with tone according to VML’s Debbi Vandeven, who highlighted the example of fast food chain Wendy’s. The brand developed “a sassy voice” for its social media persona, “that has led to all the other work being this way.”

Hellmanns Hero
Hellmann's Super bowl ad, Mayo Cat

And while many commentators pointed to humor’s rise as a sign that purpose is past its prime, some are uniting the two. Chris Symmes, head of marketing, Hellmann’s North America, told host and VML CEO Jon Cook that the brand has learned “consumers don't want to be preached to about something that they are supposedly doing wrong.” The brand’s 2024 Super Bowl advert featuring Mayo Cat - a talking cat who goes viral - draws attention to Hellmann’s anti-food waste platform in an unassuming tone. “The way that we view it is that humor allows us to invite those consumers into the conversation without judgement,” said Symmes.

5. Creator economy rising

This year Cannes acknowledged the growing power of the creator economy with the launch of the Lions Creator experience to foster learning and networking between talent and agencies. In a release announcing the launch, Festival CEO Simon Cook cited figures from Goldman Sachs which estimate the creator economy could reach a value of $480 billion by 2027 and the growing presence of celebrities, influencers and creators at Cannes underlines this growing significance. Grace Kao, Spotify’s global head of business marketing, summed it up in an interview with Vogue Business, “For brands, creators represent a direct-line into new and engaged audiences and a chance to ride the wave of our ever-evolving culture.”

Creators have long been a presence at Cannes, but this year saw a new dedicated content track of programming in collaboration with Viral Nation. Talent speaking at the special track included podcaster and former monk Jay Shetty, gen Z historian Khalil Greene, comedy sketch writer Steven He, comedian Jake Shane and lifestyle influencer Tinx (aka Christina Najjar).

Influencer and talent agencies were also a notable presence alongside the social giants, with Influential and Whalar among those taking space on the beach, while Captiv8 hosted daily conversations at the Carlton Hotel.

B2B is also getting in on the influencer action. LinkedIn jetted in a slew of business influencers while this year’s winner of the Grand Prix in B2B, JC Decaux, turned a centenarian Spanish grandmother into an influencer for its Meet Marina Prieto campaign.

Creator power of a different kind was evident in Coca-Cola’s multi-award-winning campaign Thanks for Coke-Creating. Created by WPP Open X and led by VML, with Essence Mediacom and Ogilvy PR, the global campaign celebrated local interpretations of its iconic logo by shopkeepers, bodegas and artists all over the world

The lesson for brands is that handing over the reins of creativity now and again – whether to creators or co-creators – can bring valuable rewards, and awards.

000 Coca Cola Murals
Coca-Cola's global campaign, Thanks for Coke-Creating

6. Elevating the everyday

As VML Intelligence called out in our 2023 report The Age of Re-Enchantment, there’s a movement toward finding awe in the everyday, and magic in the mundane. Kenneth Carter, Charles Howard Chandler professor, Oxford College of Emory University commented in the report: “it’s those everyday sensations that make the world beautiful.”

Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer, P&G, talked about “finding creativity in the everyday,” noting that P&G’s personal care products – among them diapers, laundry, soap, toothpaste, body wash and toilet paper – “offer huge opportunities, because everyday moments are rich with creative potential.”

And elevating another humble moment, Koji Yanai, group senior executive officer, director of the board, Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., related how he had created the Tokyo Toilet project, which commissioned a series of creators to redesign some of Tokyo’s public toilets for the 2020 Paralympic Games. This in turn led to a film by Wim Wenders, Oscar-nominated Perfect Days, which depicted the life of a Tokyo toilet cleaner, with Wenders telling the New York Times he saw the character as “a beautiful sign of reduction,” as his routine is stripped down to “a few essentials.” Yanai pointed out that the film “perceived [the] toilet as a quiet and holy space in the busy city [of] Tokyo, and also recognizes the cleaner as a kind of monk to protect such a holy space.”

Food influencer Alix Traeger discussed how her content shows “the messiness of real life.” “[It’s] showing up without those barriers, and just letting loose and having fun,” said Traeger, adding that this unfiltered quality is what appeals to her audience. “People… [come] to me and[say], ‘you inspired me to cook, because now I feel like I have a place in the kitchen.’”

Finally, Spotify proved that simple technology – in this case, the humble spreadsheet – can still unlock compelling creativity. The Spreadbeats B2B campaign, which won the Grand Prix for Digital Craft, revived old school compression and visualization techniques to turn individual cells into the world’s first spreadsheet music video.

In a nutshell, Cannes Lions 2024 celebrated the transformative impact of AI and technology while emphasizing the indispensable role for humanity in the creative process. Echoing an idea expressed by several speakers, Deepak Chopra summed it up as: “The key to creativity is your soul.”

Please provide your contact information to continue.

Before submitting your information, please read our Privacy Policy as it contains detailed information on the processing of your personal data and how we use it.

Related Content

Mural in downtown Austin

SXSW 2024: Key Trends

At Austin's annual celebration of all things tech, culture and innovation, SXSW explored the ways AI and humanity will evolve together
Read Article
HERO image Cannes decoded report

Cannes Decoded: Six trends from Cannes Lions 2023

Generative AI and DE&I lead the conversation at Cannes, as humour makes a welcome return.
Read Article