B2B Arrived at Cannes, But Was it Ready?
This year saw the launch of the new Creative B2B Lions. Stein IAS chairman, and a juror of the awards, Tom Stein, calls for excellence and ambition for next year
Amid all the commotion at Cannes, one development deserves particular recognition – and a closer look. For the first time, a B2B Creative Lions took center stage. Many in and outside the B2B space felt “it was about time.” I know I did. But having served on the inaugural jury, I left Cannes feeling that while this was a good start for B2B, it was only a start. Much has been achieved to warrant recognition on the world’s stage for creativity, but much more can and needs to be achieved.
A bit of context: there were more than 400 submissions from all over the world in this first-ever B2B Lions. Thirty-six were shortlisted. Fourteen received awards. The awarded work was very strong – more on that in a moment. While the 36 shortlists were deserving of the honor, the greater body of submissions was considerably less Cannes-ready or Cannes-worthy. They were solid. They were above-average (for B2B). But they lacked the commitment and craft that marks Lions-winning work.
Commitment and craft: here are two award-winning cases in point.
The Grand Prix winner – Sherwin-Williams’ “Speaking in Color” created by Wunderman Thompson, Minneapolis– is a voice-activated, AI-powered app that was three years in the making. It enables architects to literally speak the words that describe their dream color – a memory, a place, a feeling, anything that is a source of inspiration. The app then identifies this unique color.
The experience is magic. The power of the AI is impressive. The utility to its professional audience is persistent and enduring. The tagline that appears on the app nails it: “Think it. Say it. See it.” On top of all that, it’s part of a multi-year effort by Sherwin-Williams to be the color coatings brand known for its “color obsession.”
I think of the commitment required by Sherwin-Williams and its agency Wunderman Thompson Minneapolis – from insight through conception through realization through activation. It is both extraordinary and way out of the ordinary in B2B marketing. (Speaking of commitment, Sherwin-Williams also won a Silver for Long-Term Brand Building.)
Now on to craft: Apple was awarded a Silver for Craft for its “Escape from the Office,” a very funny, nine-minute film of the journey of a group of employees escaping from their evil boss’s clutches. This endearing team discovers how to spin an idea into a product, and a product into a company. The film threads Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and a slew of devices throughout. It may be the most artful and entertaining of product demo ever!
One might expect Apple to win for craft. It’s why Apple is a genius company in the first place. It places big bets and goes all in to make them pay off. For Apple, craft is always present in its products, user experience…and marketing. This is core to Apple’s culture, as is commitment to ideas and experience.
In a career spanning nearly 40 years and as an ardent advocate for B2B, my takeaway from this work and all the recognized work is that, having finally arrived at Cannes, we were ready to take the stage. But the experience of judging the B2B Lions has enabled me to see clearly that B2B’s arrival is not the culmination of a journey. It is the beginning.
Commitment needs to be far more present – more B2B brands, more B2B agencies, more brands and agencies working together to make a more forceful case for creative commitment. Stein IAS’ Chief Creative and Values Officer, Reuben Webb, makes this point brilliantly, writing: “It’s about having a commitment to creative effectiveness. A commitment to change. A commitment to cracking substantial, complex challenges. A commitment to facilitating commercial ends while doing good. All of this is only possible with a commitment to developing and embedding a creative culture throughout an agency or brand.”
The companion to commitment is craft. It needs to more present in B2B, full stop. One of the commonalities of work that did not shortlist was uninspiring craft. B2B is notorious for this, and it shows. Prying open corporate coffers has never been easy in B2B. And I’m imagining that most CFOs will not be overly moved to invest more “just” to win at Cannes. But it is incumbent on brand owners and agencies alike to be part of a movement for craft as a driver of creative effectiveness – and to to make the undeniable case that creativity is B2B’s greenfield for competitive advantage.
Which brings me to one final observation. I had hoped the inaugural B2B Creative Lions would serve as a catalyst for the B2B category. Having engaged with many brand and agency leaders, before, during and after Cannes. To wit, our agency did not win this year. But I’m willing to bet we will next year or the year after.
Tom Stein is chairman and chief growth officer at Stein IAS.