Jane Austin at Cannes: Childish Gambino’s This is America sets the bar for creativity – for everyone

Amid all the noise and nonsense of the three-ring buzzword circus that is the Cannes festival, it’s nice to get away from it all and check out what the creatives keep telling us the whole event is supposed to be about – the work.

Top awards contenders are on display in the basement of the Palais. It’s worth a visit if want see some actual work or get some peace and quiet – ironically, it’s one of the few areas in Cannes that’s usually pretty deserted.

It was here that I was literally stopped in my tracks by one of the big awards winners. The Childish Gambino video for This Is America, winner of the Entertainment for Music Grand Prix, was playing on a small screen on a wall to a few rows of empty chairs. The sound was muted and yet, I was compelled to drop what I was doing and stare slack jawed at the screen. Admittedly I’m a big fan of Childish Gambino, but I’ve seen this video probably about 20 times – and still I couldn’t tear myself away.

So far, the video has racked up just over half a billion views and almost as many theories about what it says about race, guns and our conspicuous consumption of cultural violence in entertainment. It’s a music video that is a cultural phenomenon in its own right, with the same power or more than any short film to shine a light on the human condition or send a socio-political message rather than simply being a vehicle for music.

We heard this week at Cannes that there’s a crisis in creativity. The IPA issued a report showing a sharp drop in the effectiveness of creatively awarded work due to an increased focus on short-term campaigns. The IPA said this trend could be reversed by learning from creative best practice.

That best practice should extend beyond advertising to art, music and film if the ad industry has any hope of getting out of its current malaise. This Is America is a masterclass on how to get into people’s heads and stay there. It’s the one piece of work here most of us have already seen, many many times. It’s time to do a better job of persuading brands that work like this is the competition and that these are the dizzying creative heights they too should aspire to.

Jane Austin is the owner of Persuasion.

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