Over the last decade, we’ve been benchmarking the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to decode the industry’s evolution and identify a guiding theme for each year.

We think it’s an important exercise, because taking time to analyze and think critically about the festival’s best work can help brands gain important insights as they head into 2020 planning.

Our theme for this year: defiance as a mindset.

What do we mean by this? Simply put, it’s about brands standing in proud opposition to authority.

When you think of defiance in this context, you might think of Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign. And while you’d be right, there’s much more to unpack.

So what does it mean to be defiant today?

All brands are challenger brands

The challenger position has always been the sweet spot in marketing. But it isn’t about challenging the brands around you anymore. Today, countless higher issues demand attention. Being a challenger brand is about challenging something, not someone. We’re talking about a spirit that allows us to disrupt established narratives and upset power dynamics.

The best brands are asking how we can fix problems affecting society in a way that moves the needle meaningfully and authentically. In essence, the next generation of branding is local and genuine, rather than global and pushed down/out. It’s about living in the real world.

To adopt a challenger mindset, start with where your brand can add value

Everywhere we looked at awards shows this year, we saw brands pushing the boundaries of what’s realistically and commercially viable. Brands exhibited a deeper cultural understanding by determining how and where they can contribute value.

While not all pulled it off, many definitely did. IKEA Israel’s “ThisAbles” campaign and The Female Company’s The Tampon Book from Germany are examples of brands standing up for what’s right in a way you just can’t help but talk about. They added value to their audience and society.

Be a guardian of culture, not an opportunist 

According to The Economist’s The World In 2019 report, “Businesses will need to be increasingly alive to social trends and the politics around them.”

But beware. Brands aren’t automatically adding value by talking about a specific issue. Without true skin in the game or an understanding of the context and culture, the work can backfire and you can end up looking like an opportunist. We’ve all seen this countless times.

It’s funny to think that today, brands are the new revolutionaries adding value from the ground up. They are moving from behaving like “opportunists” to becoming “guardians of culture” (that is, investing in the community, joining that culture and helping build something the culture will love) and standing up for what’s right.

American Express’s NBA Jersey Assurance program is one piece of work that’s about standing up for a community, showing you understand the culture, and adding to it. While this might not seem like a serious issue, American Express found its problem to solve, and it had an impact. Other stand-out examples of defiance’s range in emotion and tone include Ancestry’s Railroad Ties (disclosure: our Weber Shandwick New York office worked on this), L’Oréal Paris’ The Non-Issue in Vogue and Kraft Heinz’s LegalAde.

Defiance is most beautiful and impactful when done simply: just try and add value to the people who care about your brand.

To do this, we need to set ourselves a higher bar and lead our clients and peers by example. We need to get to a place where adding value is second nature.



Our industry has a love-hate relationship with awards. It feels great to celebrate our hard work. But it also takes so much effort to submit. On top of that, each year it seems there’s another new award show to enter and follow.

It all makes you wonder sometimes if awards really matter.

My answer: Absolutely yes. And here’s why.

Awards hold us all to higher standards and better work. Most people don’t wake up in the morning and say ‘hey, I want to engage with a brand today.’

It pays to pay attention to the winning work. With our industry constantly evolving, award-winning work serves as a snapshot of where we are today. And a catalyst to where we might be going. The stakes are higher for marketing these days because people don’t see marketing as simply marketing anymore. It’s treated like any other piece of content in the public domain. With no clear borders between culture, business, technology, marketing and politics, what brands say matters more than ever before. Seeing world-class work challenges us to level up the work we do for clients.

Creating value wins awards. And hearts, minds and wallets.

With everything demanding our attention, building awareness is not enough. Campaigns must create value in order to have impact. They need to be designed to have a value beyond the product, service or message we are promoting – be it problem solving, social good, driving change, empowerment, access, entertainment or utility. In other words, it needs to be something people seek out to benefit themselves or society.

Take for example, our #BuickStyle: The Ultimate Driving Shoe campaign, which captured CPRS 2019 Ace Creative PR Campaign Of The Year and a 2019 SABRE Diamond award. Our approach was to engage a younger demographic by partnering with a fashion brand to produce a new product – and tell a design and craftmanship story in the process. Our other award-winning campaigns like the Big Mac Coin and The Woods Parka Lodge also tapped into something real to create genuine value; both have been celebrated at many awards shows so far.

And with the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Championships for the first time, I’m reminded of our Bud Light’s Victory Fridge program in Cleveland that allowed the brand to become deeply involved in celebrating and rallying a community.

Based on our benchmarking of the recent award show circuit, the most impactful campaigns address three critical questions:

  1. How do we make the idea stick? This ensures the message and activation build a bridge between the brand world and the real world. It’s about the context, and how to insert the brand’s point of view – and opportunity – within it.
  2. How do we make the idea real? This is about going beyond channels and starting with audiences to ensure news value, accuracy, repetition, trust and advocacy. Positioning used to describe how your brand related to competitors in your category; now, it’s about describing how your brand relates to society at large.
  3. How do we make the idea count? Ultimately, any campaign must ladder back to a business objective. Ask yourself: what are you putting out into the real world that is tangible and demonstrable? Use data validation, audience journey mapping and asset/tool production to create that real impact.

Are you ready to push your work into award-winning territory?

If you’d like to hear more about this year’s awards show learnings, get in touch. We’d love to share Weber Shandwick’s ‘Cannes-piration’ – a look at the trends, benchmarks and insights after the festival wraps later this month. We’ll walk you through our POV on the best work from the world’s biggest creative festival and talk about the insights and innovation that earned the awards.

We may have a love-hate relationship with awards, but we love sharing great work.

SXSW 2019: What Do Canadian Brands Need To Know?

Back from Austin, Weber Shandwick’s Robyn Adelson, Craig Ritchie and Andrea Dart talk blurred lines & politics, the balance between technology with humanity, and the role of local news.

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