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Partners’ Matt Williams: my Top Tips for Cannes (and what women really want)

Will the 21st Century Woman be represented at Cannes?

This is the first year in eight that I’ve not made the June pilgrimage to Cannes. Will I miss it? I tell people I won’t – and in a way, that’s correct. My liver will be better off for it. The general ego and bluster around the Croisette can certainly get tedious after a couple of days too. And my pale skin always poses danger in any temperatures north of 20 degrees.

But there’s loads I’ll miss too. Of course it’s great to get away from the day-to-day agency grind for a bit. It’s great to catch up with old friends in an idyllic setting and share a beer or twelve. And best of all, the work you do see and the diverse perspectives and thinking on the industry does leave you genuinely inspired.

I know the cynics roll the eyes at this last point, claiming that those saying it seem to be ‘protesting too much’. But Cannes really is what you make of it and I’ve rarely walked away from the Palais without a spring in my step and a burning ambition to change the face of the industry.

Yet this year I’m staying home. And that’s partly down to the 21st Century Woman. No, that doesn’t mean my wife’s banned me from going, it’s an initiative being run by Partners Andrews Aldridge to find out what ‘real women’ – that is, those scary people outside of our agency bubble – think of advertising.

So next week, whilst everyone else will be on the Croisette debating the difference between a magnum and a jeroboam, we’ll be in our Experience Lab in Great Portland Street, finding out what women from all over the country think of the work that’s winning in the South of France. We’ll be getting their opinions just hours after the awards are picked up by the victorious and hungover creatives.

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Because it’s this audience that we’re creating a lot of this great work for. They are responsible for 80 per cent of all purchasing decisions. Yet during our first wave of 21st Century Woman research, we found that 76 per cent of women feel that brands are not representing them properly, and 40 per cent cite advertising as one of the most likely reasons for them to be self-critical. Pretty disappointing stats.

So what do we hope to achieve next week? At best, we’ll discover that the very best creative thinking is appreciated by the woman on the street as much as it is by the figureheads of our industry. At worst, we’ll see that the industry is still struggling to move out of its bubble, and in its quest for eye-catching and canny creative work is failing to represent the category that holds a large portion of the purse strings.

I hope it’s the former. And there are some great pieces of work that should fulfil the criteria powerfully. So to end – and in the spirit of MAA’s prediction format – here’s three I think might satisfy both those in the South of France and those residing in Southend.

State Street Global Advisors – Fearless Girl


It’s sometimes easy to try and be too clever with predictions. So forgive me for picking something blatantly obvious. But McCann New York’s ‘Fearless Girl’ is generally being predicted to sweep the board – and rightly so. It’s a clever use of media, a symbol of power and purpose, and generated greater awareness and conversation than most four-foot statues ever have.

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Nike – Da Da Ding

This high-octane spot from India is 2017’s ‘This Girl Can’. It’s got the right attitude and sponsored empowerment that goes down well with Cannes judges (see last year’s Cyber winner by Under Armour) and tackles a genuine issue – that sport in India (particularly amongst women) has a massive image problem. The ad has great production values, a great soundtrack, and sports varying from boxing to cricket. The badminton set-piece in particular is an amazing feat.

Addict Aide – Like My Addiction

A clever take on influencer marketing from an agency, BETC Paris, always doing groundbreaking work. I think the judges will love the subtlety and dark storytelling – and the way it generated invaluable PR by shining a light on an important issue in a very post-modern way. The thinking that our proximity to alcohol and celebrity makes it easy to miss the early signs of alcoholism is something sure to generate debate. It’s lovely work.

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams
Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.

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