5 lessons from Cannes Lions 2016 winners

Apparently, amidst of all the yacht parties and rosé in Cannes last week, a number of marketing gongs were also handed out. I know, strange, right?

After pouring over the awards lists, we at The Challenger Project wanted to share the 5 things that we think all aspiring Challengers can learn from these winners…

1.     Standing for something means more than just saying “we believe”

REI’s #OptOutside was my personal favourite campaign of the year. Bold, calm and understated amongst the sea of noise that surrounds Black Friday, REI showed that it’s one thing to say that you believe that “life is better lived outdoors” and another thing entirely to stand by it.

When we first started studying challenger brands, it was rare to find a brand or business with a purpose that was measured beyond product excellence and profit. Today, many companies will talk about their beliefs and what their brand stands for, but few will stand by them if they require a tough business decision.

OptOutside was the outward symbol of a brand point of view, one that has been at the heart of the business for years. That belief offers clear guidance as to how the brand should act in a given situation. This campaign is just the latest example of the brand helping people to live a life outdoors and therefore, in the minds of REI, a better life.

2.     You can still pick a fight on World Peace Day

Picking a fight is a time honoured Challenger tradition, and Burger King did it superbly this year. The beauty was in the subtlety.

Now, it might have appeared that Burger King’s McWhopper campaign was an olive branch extended out to one of their bitter rivals, but really, this was a fantastic coup, designed to highlight Burger King as the more interesting, innovative and open brand compared to McDonald’s.

The campaign was win/win for Burger King, a player considerably smaller than McDonald’s. Either McDonald’s, the world’s most famous QSR, would take the bait and agree to play with BK, giving them more exposure and publicity then their smaller media budgets and reach would allow. Or McDonald’s would shy away with from it, making Burger King look like the Thought Leader in the category.

McDonald’s found themselves forced to play by the Challenger’s rules. They did not like it.

3.     You don’t have to be a new upstart to be an Irreverent Maverick

Harvey Nichols, the darling of the oh-so establishment Knightsbridge fashion scene, has really hit the nail on the head with its recent communications. 2011’s “Walk of Shame” and 2013’s “Sorry, I spent it on myself range” has been followed by 2015’s “Shoplifters”, promoting their new loyalty and rewards app.

Harvey Nichols is so good, it’s worth stealing.

The tone is always combative, feisty and hilariously funny, but also relentlessly premium. Each execution re-enforcing that thought that Harvey Nic’s is worth being selfish over. Just because you’re a premium or well established brand, doesn’t mean that you have to be boring. What is luxury marketing good for anyway, if not encouraging us to indulge in those seven deadly sins?

4.     You can’t beat a great product demo

For all of the joy and beauty of a great brand ad, you often can’t beat a really stunning, jaw dropping product demo (and really, you’re just competing with the old Pilkington Glass “Sniper” ad… greatest product demo of them all. 

Focus groups might ask you to “just tell us what it is/does”, but if you’re a challenger, you’re not going to take that invitation lightly.

After racking up 85m YouTube views for a video about reversing, Volvo are back again, this time with 4 year old Sophie at the helm. Punishing a new truck, the toughest Volvo has ever built apparently. And it needs to be.

I want a go.

Which is exactly the sentiment Chicago based baby buggy manufacturers Contours wanted to bring out. A buggy so good, parents would love it too.

While others might talk about their product’s performance, Challengers always look to demonstrate their product’s “over performance”, the unnecessary but exciting extras that set a Challenger apart. Your product might be functional, but there’s no excuse for it to be boring.

5.     Finally, it’s fun to be the Challenger

This year, we saw a number of challengers having fun with their marketing at Cannes. After all, surprising humour is a great way of making people pay you attention when they aren’t looking for you.

MACMA, an Argentinian breast cancer foundation found free media in the form of man boobs.

Netflix said FU to the American political landscape, hijacking a presidential debate.

And Johnsonnville brought sausages to the people of Chicago thanks to a partnership with Uber and some grandmothers. 

Which should go to show, if you’re not having fun with your marketing, you’re doing it wrong.