Last year, the top prize in the Cannes Lions Innovation category went to Google’s DeepMind group for its advances in artificial intelligence in creating the AlphaGo platform that learned how to play the complex board game Go. Needless to say, it’s not really a piece of advertising. But by advancing Google’s technology in such a way, there’s no doubt it also boosts people’s opinion of the search giant as a center of innovation.
That’s how Lions Innovation differs from most other categories at the annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, often referred to as the Oscars of advertising. The Innovation Lions shortlist, just released by the festival, reflects its place where brand creativity can be at its broadest definition, often blurring the lines between brands, science, and technology. The shortlist contains 35 projects, including Intel’s drone-led contribution to Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show, Apple’s recycling robot named Liam, Tiger Beer’s effort to make ink out of air pollution, and Google’s Tilt Brush 3D VR painting platform.
Jury chair Susan Lyne, president and managing partner at BBG Ventures, says this year’s crop of entries overall represent a big step up from a year ago. “Last year I felt the winner (Google’s DeepMind) was head and shoulders above all the other entries, going into judging,” she says. “It just felt like it was in a class on its own. This year, I think there are at least six to eight entries that could end up being the top winner.”
The judging process is another differentiator between the Innovation Lions and other categories. Instead of a group of judges gathering in a room together to discuss the shortlist, all the Innovation contenders come to Cannes and present to the jury in-person.
The first question Lyne asks when evaluating a project is, is this truly new? Is there something here that is genuinely innovative? “There are many things that are smart applications of something, that solve a real world problem, but is it something that feels like it opens up a new world? I always start there,” she says. “Additionally, I’d say, have they tested this enough, and is what they’re pitching real? We saw that issue a lot more last year, where people were pitching things they were planning to build or had partially built. So that’s something we look at carefully. This year, we’ve seen many more instances of products that are genuinely going to market, or had been significantly tested, that if successful could have a huge impact.”
While there are some contenders that don’t easily fit under the marketing umbrella, there are plenty that do. These tend to be brands aiming to wow audiences with their technical flair, or ability to utilize creativity and reach to make a social impact–or both. One of last year’s winners was Toyota’s “Land Cruiser Emergency Network” out of Australia, which used the cars to provide mobile signals to remote areas.
This year, the brilliant “Meet Graham” from Transport Accident Commission Victoria and agency ClemengerBBDO Melbourne introduced us to the only human evolved enough to survive a car crash. There was also Samsung’s “Theater for All Ears” that worked with hearing-impaired people in Brazil, using VR to help them enjoy live theater for the first time.
The final winners will be announced on June 20.