Can innovation really create value for brands?

21st June 2017

This is the first of a series of posts from Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

It’s the midway point of this year’s Cannes Lions. But something tells me it might be a turning point for something much bigger.

Because, even as the themes of innovation, technology and creative bravery coalesce, as usual, into a set of imperatives for the industry to take away, be inspired by and act on over the next year, one implicit yet inescapable question keeps surfacing.

Why?

Why are we innovating? Why are we pushing the tech envelope? Why are we seeking bravery?

This year I have seen and heard brands and agencies making it clearer than ever that what matters is not being groundbreaking, showing off the latest technology or smashing marketing metrics. It is delivering real value.

At The Economist’s breakfast event on Monday, Mastercard’s CMO Raja Rajamannar opined on this theme: “Marketers get excited about marketing KPIs but what really matters is whether it is driving the business forward.”

I spent an hour and a half that afternoon working with three entrepreneurs who had signed up to a session on how to use PR to build their fledgling businesses. I found that I needed to spend the first ten minutes or so breaking down their preconceptions of what PR is. Because it is not “getting coverage”. Not in 2017. It is building a relationship with your audience – or public – by giving them something of real value, whether that is a product or a piece of content. The “coverage”, if we must continue to use that term, will come naturally if you get that value piece right.

Toyota ended their main stage talk on “seed creativity” by pointedly reminding the audience, “You don’t have to use cutting edge technology for everything’. And Dentsu Indonesia’s Keat Soh outlined a remarkable piece of work turning pocket tissues into affordable diabetes tests for low-income Indonesians (apparently a human tear contains enough glucose to be able to diagnose for diabetes, thus avoiding a blood test). He called this “frugal innovation” and his point was that big marketing budgets can actually hinder real innovation. Real value.

When you can have so much for so little you have less need to innovate.

This, then, was a call to arms. To remember that true creativity is about finding the solution to a problem, no matter the budget. To remind oneself of the excitement innate in hacking the system, finding loopholes, problem-solving with what you have to get the result you need.

To deliver the result your client really needs: real value, not marketing KPIs met.

As ever, this week has thrown up some incredible, inspiring work and I will return to London energised and refuelled for the creative challenges ahead.

But what I’ll take to heart the most is what I’ve heard between the lines. The sound of an industry putting aside the hectic race for “pioneering” in favour of “practical”, in order to be meaningfully innovative. That would be a genuine turning point, and an important one.

Because innovation without pragmatic purpose is not much more than technological or creative showboating. Innovation with a practical use is valuable to real people – and therefore to brands.