Here at Cannes Lions HQ, we have conducted more than 100 detailed interviews with Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Creative Officers, Brand Leaders, Strategists and CEOs. We have also received 561 responses to our qualitative online survey.

These eight 2020 Festival themes are defined by some of the most brilliant and inspired minds in our industry. Thank you to all who participated along the way.


Creativity is the Business Growth Engine


Creative Disruption in Commerce


Post-Purpose: Brand Accountability and Activism


Your Brand is My Experience


Looking to 2030: Making your Business Future-fit


Applied Creativity: When Data, Tech and Ideas Collide


Storytelling at Scale


Let’s Get Back to Brand

Creativity is the Business Growth Engine

“The Chief Marketing Officer agenda is the business growth agenda. Which means we need to drive impact, top-line acceleration and return on investment.”

Debora Koyama, Chief Marketing Officer, International, Mondelez

Creativity at Cannes Lions is far more than a 30-second ad. In fact, it’s hardly ever a 30-second ad. It’s a survival mechanism. Applied properly, it’s transformative. It solves big business problems. It also requires complete organisational focus.

It is arguably the best (sometimes only) way to drive non-incremental growth.

But as you know, it requires a long-term, enterprise-wide commitment and often a complete re-engineering of business models, mindsets and culture. Marketers must define how creativity can support both short-term activities and long-term brand equity to have a better level of influence in the boardroom. We need to focus on the “marketing of marketing and creativity” in order to gain credibility; but this must always be backed by business results. Creativity needs a new vocabulary: one that resonates with the C-suite.

At the Festival, we will showcase speakers and organisations who have used creativity to achieve sustained growth in highly-competitive categories and demonstrated its impact. Whether this is powered by design-thinking, data, technology or consumer insights doesn’t really matter. It’s the output, impact and ongoing buy-in that counts. Hear from marketers who have mastered the boardroom and the CFO relationship; and from creatives who are fluent in the language of business. Hear how to be a true business partner rather than a drain on costs.

Some of the big questions are:

  • How can we define, identify, develop and ensure real, sustainable business growth?
  • What drives growth: is it penetration, engagement and/or reach and is there a blueprint for success? What difference does creativity make in all of this? And what type of creativity works?
  • As marketers and business partners, how can we better tell the story of creativity and growth and balance it with automation and performance?
  • The big idea is great, but what about the business result? How can we demonstrate the efficacy of creative work by measuring what matters?

Creative Disruption in Commerce

“We’re seeing the atomization of retail…People can buy from anywhere. From live TV, from graffiti on walls, from posters, from their friends. You can almost buy anything and it doesn’t have to be in a store or on a shelf.”

Daniel Bonner, Chief Creative Officer, Wunderman Thompson

Commerce is often seen as just transaction and friction reduction but it presents so much more potential and opportunities for brand. It’s a game-changer. Judging by the outstanding award-winning work on show at the 2019 Festival, we will see a lot more experimentation and sophistication in this fiercely disruptive and exciting space.

People don’t want to be bombarded with annoying “buy it now” sales messages: they expect personalised shopping experiences to be seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives. They want the brands they like to add value. To make their lives better. To delight even:

  • A personal greeting by a digital totem in a physical store? Of course.
  • Cashless vending machines with transactions based on facial recognition? Yes..
  • Mobile-centric, participatory real-time shopping experiences which turn the consumer into the retailer? Why not…

We will select and invite trailblazers from brands and retailers who are pioneering “new” forms of commerce (cashless, omnichannel, immersive, experience) to promote better buying experiences.

We will also explore how marketers can create a true point of difference in saturated sectors and on the “go-to” sites like Amazon and More importantly, the vital role that creativity can play here, when you’re in up against a throng of competitors.

We will explore the (ever-changing) physical environment too, and its true value and role as we ramp-up on in-device purchases. Some of the most exciting work is happening in-stores (and elsewhere) and we will look at the very best.

Some of the big questions are:

  • As distribution models are disrupted with the massive ecommerce platforms of this world, what consumer experience do you have and what part of it do you own? But most importantly – WHERE can you reach them and own it?
  • What part can physical retail still play in a digital and convenience led commerce market?
  • How can we make the buying process seamless and integrate into consumers’ lives in a relevant way
  • What can we learn from China: the ultimate experiential retail playground?

Post-Purpose: Brand Accountability and Activism

“The most meaningful way we can drive impact is to not only have a point of view but to put the weight of the brand behind it.”

Alicia Tillman, Chief Marketing Officer, SAP

“55% of consumers believe companies have a more important role than governments today in creating a better future”

Havas Meaningful Brands Report, 2019

You have made it loud and clear. The time for discussion and awareness is over. It is time for action. There is no doubt that authentic, purpose-driven work can have a positive impact on behaviour and society and support business results. But there is growing evidence that people are cynical of brands who “purpose-wash” for short-term gains. We’re in woke times.

As the stakes become higher, brands and companies must live out their beliefs and missions or get their house in order before they seek to take communications messages to market. In essence, they need to be fully accountable. They must walk the talk.

At Cannes Lions 2020, we will address purpose in a far more practical and actionable way. We will hear what some of the world’s biggest brands and agencies are DOING to tackle massive global issues including climate change, inequality, gun control and hunger. We will also raise the benchmark of what is possible with the creative clout of our industry behind it.

We will explore case studies from some of the brands doing authentic purpose-driven work that not only improves lives, but drives return. We will examine campaigns that intersect social good with good business. We will also hold the industry to account and explore the responsibilities that the industry has to safeguard the privacy and safety of consumers.

This is a business critical, expansive topic and we will devote time to exploring all its facets.

Some of the big questions are:

  • In an era of woke-washing, how can brands authentically engage consumers in purpose-driven activism?
  • What are the best, most sustainable examples of high-performing, purpose-driven work?
  • In a world where everyone is “doing” purpose, does it still matter?
  • We need answers, not rhetoric. Specifically, what can we - as an industry - do to tackle big, global issues?

We have some of the world’s best creative talent in one place. We want to harness this opportunity to enact real change. More on this to follow….

Your Brand is My Experience

“These days fixing a failure rate point on a customer journey is worth far more to a business than producing a 30-second advertising slot”

Justin Billingsley, CEO, Publicis Emil

What is Experience? Experience/CX/UX is all-encompassing. There’s really no point having great advertising if it points you to a rubbish experience. But, how do we define experience? Well, we asked you. And you said everything. From physical to digital and all those critical moments of truth in between. Done badly, this can decimate your brand and reputation. But done well, it can have a massive impact on your customer loyalty and bottom line.

Today, the brand and experience are one and the same; you must create touchpoints which provide rich, seamless interactions that exude brand character at every stage along the path to purchase.

But to create transformative customer experiences, brands first need to transform their own enterprise experience, which means developing customer-centricity programmes, internal cultural transformation and modern ways of working. Sounds hard? It is.

We will hear from brands who have struggled and experimented with customer experience: those who have made mistakes, gathered feedback and improved the customer journey all along the way. We will hear how they have prioritised customer satisfaction, synchronised brand messaging with a streamlined journey and joined organisational dots across the business.

The next realm of experience will be completely multi-sensory and engineered with empathy. At Cannes Lions we will explore all these possibilities in inspirational and expansive talks which explore human psychology, experience design, emotions and behaviour.

Some of the big questions are:

  • How can we fix broken experiences? What does it take and who do we need to get in the room to fix it?
  • Have we reached “peak experience”? In what is now a sea of sameness (just look at the fast food apps), how can we truly differentiate with brand personality along the customer journey?
  • What can we learn from the new economy, D2C brands unrestricted by legacy operating models and processes?
  • How can we make experiences more human, more emotional, more engaging? What creates the difference between brand satisfaction and brand love?

Looking to 2030: Making your Business Future-fit

“Creatives nowadays need a swiss-army knife of skills. The creative technologist today is as important as the copywriter”

Jess Greenwood, Global Chief Marketing Officer, R/GA

The only thing that’s constant in our industry is change. The AOR is almost certainly dead, the next generation of creative talent demands new, modern working practices and D2C brands (who only last year we held up as the new icons in marketing) are seemingly hitting a plateau, struggling to scale. We are in an era where we need to constantly learn, experiment and create the future.

This is a meaty and complex theme, ultimately looking at how we can bullet-proof careers and business as we prepare for a recessionary world. At Cannes Lions we will be focusing on these industry priorities:

Talent: At a time when creative and marketing capabilities are, at best, undefined, speakers will explore the new skillsets required and how we can acquire and retain the world’s best creative and tech talent.

Better teams and processes: enabling a creative culture is under-scrutinised but essential. Speakers will focus on how we can build a workplace as a catalyst for creativity and growth. Here it is important to look at what detracts from this: burnout, lack of inclusion, #metoo, and age discrimination (to name a few).

Agency and consultancy models: We will look at new agency models and what the future value proposition needs to be to survive. What is the role of the agency? Is it an ideas house? A consultancy? A transformation bureau? Let’s re-evaluate what the agency of the future stands for.

Collaboration and Partnerships: Let’s face it, we can’t fly solo anymore. We need to work better together to produce work that we’re proud of.

In-housing: Speakers from both sides of the fence will explore whether it’s working and what elements are working best. A year on, we’ll ask “will in-housing creativity fail?”

Some of the big questions are:

  • How do we cultivate human-first workplaces to enable creativity? How do we lead differently to support our teams to build brands in a modern way?
  • What is the best way to work with clients. Do we need to be business partners? If we’re not writing the briefs ourselves, are we doing something really wrong?
  • Why are brands continuing to in-house? Is it more about translation and understanding than efficiency?
  • How can we continue to recruit and support inclusive teams that creatively thrive?

Applied Creativity: When Data, Tech and Ideas Collide

“I think that technology is always a means to an end. Never an end in itself. Sometimes our campaigns are tech-enabled. Tech-enabled creativity is where we often work best as a brand though. Our best campaigns fuse the big idea and the best tech solution”

Fernando Machado, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Burger King

There was once a time when tech and data both terrified and enchanted us. But whilst some were still obsessing about “humans v machines”, future-thinking brands were creating virtual assistants, personalising1-2-1 ads at scale and enabling customers to try on make-up at home via an App. What was once deemed “innovation” is now a hygiene factor. And now, as creative technology becomes invisible, the creative possibilities are almost infinite. Data is also seductive and yet it can be profoundly limiting (particularly when we’re all working with the same information!)

Here at Cannes Lions we will always believe first and foremost in human curiosity and imagination. But we celebrate and interrogate the application of creativity, which is almost always informed and amplified by machines.

The magic of the Festival lies in the ideas that are brought to life on-stage. Our expert speakers, including creative technologists, storytellers, scientists and innovators will share real-life examples on how to practically apply data and tech in a way that delights and enthralls. Brands will also demonstrate HOW they have harnessed technology and data to create better emotional moments with consumers. We will showcase ONLY the very best, global examples of tech and data-fuelled creativity. It will blow your minds.

Some of the big questions are:

  • Practical applications: how can we supercharge our creativity with technology, use data and machine learning as the guardrails for good ideas and deploy AR to create mind-blowingly immersive experiences?
  • Can we always rely on data/AI and what pitfalls must we avoid: both strategically and ethically?
  • How are well-loved brands and businesses using technology, data and new tools to transform the way we interact?
  • Does digital live up to its promise? It might be great at efficiency and optimisation but what about effectiveness?

Storytelling at Scale

“We all know that people actively avoid advertising. Our role as brands is to solve problems and deliver experiences in ways that are relevant to how people live their everyday lives, that they care about and that make a positive contribution to culture. This requires a phenomenal shift in the way that we work and think. It’s a massive challenge, but one that we relish.”

Brad Hiranga, Chief Brand Officer, General Mills

This theme is as much about the context (and pace, volume) as the content. Storytelling, the bedrock of our industry – used to be much simpler: develop one key message, focus on a few formats and execute with artistry. But, the job today is way more complicated. Platforms have multiplied and we’re all spoilt for choice. We crave and expect constant entertainment. We’re greedy for more (and better) content. We will not accept mediocrity. This is as exciting as it is unnerving and we need to embrace the challenge!

We must adapt formats, at pace and at scale. Today, brands that need to gain attention must focus on content that entertains and engages people on the issues and stories that matter, right here, right now. Cultural relevance is critical.

Our speakers on this topic (storytellers, content creators, media owners, platforms) will explore new creative dimensions in storytelling: across modern platforms and formats. They will discuss the bold endeavours being made by brands to shape their stories into entertaining, culturally relevant content, and the partners and creative talent required to make this happen.

Some of the big questions are:

  • How are the most-loved brands transforming from advertisers to entertainers?
  • What can creatives, brands and media do to work in a more joined-up way to make messages that resonate in the right media?
  • How are brands structuring their work with internal teams and partners to bring these stories to life across the magnitude of media available?
  • Who are the most exciting new-generation storytellers? What do they care about and why? Why are they resonating with younger generations?

Let’s Get Back to Brand

Famously iconic brands do not make themselves. But in amongst the current obsession with clicks and impressions, brand-building and long-term brand health has been neglected. This theme is not as simplistic as performance marketing vs. creativity but it does throw up some important questions: primarily, what essence has been lost whilst the focus has been more squarely on immediate ROI?

The evidence shows that for creativity to really pay, there needs to be commitment. And patience. Getting back to brand is about focusing on building brand equity and growing brand affinity with customers. It’s not about short-lived stunts: it’s about real, hard graft. It’s about understanding what brand assets and emotional connections are integral to long-term relationship building and memory making, so that you stay front-of-mind. It’s about celebrating long-term wins and having the confidence to convince the business that brand health matters.

Most importantly though, we will explore what consumers are looking for, what represents a meaningful, relevant brand (humanity, impact, positivity) in the 21st century and how creativity can help to differentiate.

We will find the brightest and most inspirational minds in modern marketing to share their thoughts and manifestos on why we must better balance the long-term with the short-term.

Some of the big questions are:

  • What does a modern-day brand need to stand-for and what role does creativity have in building impactful brands?
  • Have modern-day marketers lost the art of brand-building and is this because the language baffles the board? How can we regain confidence in creativity?
  • How can legacy brands reinvent themselves to maintain relevance?
  • What is the latest evidence that long-term efforts on creativity really pay off?

This is not a retrospective look back at brands from the past. But a look forward at what will matter to the future consumer.