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Re-Innovating The Wheel

by Shane Casey, Head of Digital

Innovation is a much-abused word in advertising. However Cannes Lions defines itself as not just an advertising awards, but as a “Festival of Creativity”.

There’s a home (and a category) for every type of creative thinking; from advertising to entertainment, charitable to commercial, analogue to digital. With the best of the best from around the world to choose from, I was intrigued to see how the juries would define “innovation”.

The cynic in me expected to see the latest technologies rolled out as “world firsts”, and there certainly was that in spades. Spotify deployed robot sculptors to immortalise rappers, TD bank created an ad in the blockchain (that literally no-one will ever see) and IBM’s Watson picked up more metal than a scrapyard crane. If something could be 3D scanned, 3D printed or recreated in virtual reality, it was — from Edvard Munch’s paintbrushes to Billy Corgan’s hairless head.

However, it was encouraging to see a clear bias from a lot of the juries toward “real innovation” rather than tokenistic technology. I spent a lot of my time in Cannes at the ‘Inside the Jury Room’ sessions, where jurors would discuss their favourite winners from their category and reveal the main topics of debate and discussion in the jury rooms. The Innovation, Digital Craft, Creative Data and Mobile juries all repeated the same mantra — they were much more interested in the creative application of existing technologies than first-mover uses of new technologies.

For example, with ‘ATMs that Listen’ the CommonWealth Bank in Australia repurposed their network of over 4000 ATMs nationwide to not just handle banking transactions, but also to survey their customers. With over 1.2 million responses to date (second only to the Australian census), Commonwealth Bank have made a powerful business tool out of their existing infrastructure.

 

Similarly, the Digital Craft jury raved about ‘Touching Masterpieces’ that employed haptic gloves, around since the 90s, to enable the blind to ‘see’ sculptural masterpieces at the National Gallery in Prague. While badged as the ‘World’s first VR experience for the blind’ its charm and innovation still lay in an unconventional use of long-standing tech.

 

Even the simple poster, the last thing you’d expect in Innovation categories, was reinvented as ‘The Dissolving Posters’ to combat the spread of Zika and Dengue fever in the Brazilian favelas. Made of rice paper, they’d dissolve in the rain and distribute a powerful insecticide to kill mosquito larvae before they even mature.

 

And possibly my favourite piece of work, ‘My Line’, for the Colombian Ministry of Communications and Information, brought free access to Google to Colombia’s poorest and remotest areas via the phone. They created a toll-free number (‘6000913’, think about it…) that Colombians could call from their phones. Their search queries and results were handled in real-time by Google’s voice assistant. For a country with severely limited internet access, it suddenly gave access to Google’s wealth of information to 99.3% of the population. Such an ingeniously simple repurposing of the phone that the juries had to spend a long time ensuring it hadn’t been done before.

 

The approach of assigning new tasks to readily available tools, technologies and objects around us was a real inspiration to me. We’re surrounded by things that we assume to only have the predefined purpose we’re accustomed to. If we can challenge our own preconceptions of the functional limitations of our surroundings or organisations, we have everything we need to deliver real world innovation… without a huge R&D budget.

 

Read the next article:

Trick Shots

by Rory Hamilton, Executive Creative Director

Or see all our articles from Cannes Lions 2018