Will Parrish of VCCP Media: my Top Tips for Cannes

Will Parrish is chief strategy officer of VCCP Media

Last year things were looking bleak. During the week of Cannes 2023 Wildfires raged, Nato warned Russia about geo-political posturing and Spotify dropped their deal with Harry & Megan. For the record, I do not see these headlines as holding equal significance. And all was not well in the sheltered waters of the Croisette for people in media. Not a single award given in the Cannes Lions Media category awarded to a media agency. Oh dear, oh dear… Had we lost our way? Perhaps in part due to the allure of big tech, algorithmic delivery and the looming presence of Artificial Intelligence coming to show us how creativity was really done?

The big theme in 2023 of creativity for driving business growth may have also placed rosé-tinted sunglasses on more hard nosed conversations around outcomes, effectiveness and attribution for linen suited media types in Cannes than the purpose-led narrative of previous years… BUT! There was an interesting glimmer of hope… the introduction of a category designed to celebrate humour in advertising. The industry was realising that the world was only getting more bleak, and maybe the route to people’s purse strings was as much through the funny bone as the head and the heart.

This focus on humour has prompted a trip down memory lane over the past year and brands not taking themselves too seriously. Irreverently twisting loved brand assets, re-imagining end lines and I’m pleased to note – platforming their new material perfectly for the changing media landscape…  This year, I’m hoping we see the right recognition for hacking the media to force a double take, reinforcing brave brands to trust the power of their latent brand equity in people’s minds and letting the medium itself land the punchline.

Make it for reel: The Ordinary

Fake ads were briefly a thing that plagued the Outdoor companies, and even more fleetingly duped a handful of people on Instagram. Had they really put a North Face jacket on big ben? Huge eye-lashes on the London Underground trains? No, obviously not. But more recently, it’s prompted brands to buck this trend and ‘build for reel’. Big, fun, funny real world builds out in the world – but designed to entertain on social. How do you make a bottle of reformulated hyaluronic acid 2% +B5 fun? If you’re The Ordinary, you float a giant 12 metre version of it down the Thames… and get everyone to wonder if it’s just another bloody virtual ad. As it creaked dangerously close to the arches of Tower Bridge.. If you’re a brand that’s trying to be known for flat pack furniture, but cannot shake your most famous party trick – making the world’s best loved turkey meatballs… why fight it? Instead… make a Turkey sized meatball in the build up to Christmas! And if you’re the best loved, but the smallest Easter Egg in town… why not make life-sized mini billboards and place them in front of the biggest sites in town?

Memory stirring media: JD Sports 

We’re seeing brand bravery make a comeback – big established brands having the bravery to let their logo have the day off in favour of their distinctive assets playing centre stage. KitKat running a red billboard with just “Have a…” and letting passers by fill the gap for themselves. That’s a much better call to action than a QR code! BA cutting into cabin windows to show the joy of being on one of their aircraft – at the expense of their logo’s visibility on the fuselage…and Coke crushing up their logo to support recycling their product. Perhaps my favourite example of this is a lesser celebrated Christmas ad in the UK… JD Sports. A portrait of what Christmas is really like for young people across the country in all its gritty, fun, sports orientated & council estate kick-about glory… and right at the centre of it all… the JD Sports plastic bag, with its drawstring sides as the real hero of the story. I hope it gets the recognition it deserves!

The Medium is the punchline: Ikea

Lastly, there are some excellent examples this year where the media choice plays the pivotal role in landing the punchline. From Barbie pink writ large across every possible touchpoint to the giant blue IKEA shopping bag looming over Oxford Circus… my favourite of all? For Channel 4’s docudrama Partygate that retold the story of COVID rule-breaking parties held at the prime minister’s No.10 residency a flurry of neon dayglo rave posters appeared fly posted around Westminster evoking iconic 90s nostalgia and a wry smile. Now that’s funny.

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