by Ian Rumsby
June 26th, 2014

For the uninitiated, The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is part inspiration, part adulation and occasional indignation. Squeeze that all together and you get the single most enlightening place to spend a few days immersed in high-octane-creative-overload with 12,000 like-minded individuals. It’s nothing if not fuel for the senses.

But for all the creative joie de vivre, this  year’s Cannes Lions seemed to dwell on the emotional as much as the creative. There was a sense that the haze of technical wizardry available to us might just be guilty of overriding the creativity it was supposed to liberate.

It’s a point that not every delegate would agree with, of course. But there was a palpable sense that an understanding of (and engagement with) human emotion has to be the driving force behind creativity.

In retrospect, that seems obvious. It’s just that there are an awful lot of campaigns out there that might have forgotten the fundamentals.

The following diary pieces from four conference sessions explain why:

The New Romantics

Take a long, lazy look at your partner. You know, the one you spent all that time learning to get to know. To get to love.

Gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, right?

Now what if you just found out that same partner had become a text addict with 50 of your nearest and dearest in the hope of settling into something a little more rewarding. Oh, and deep and meaningful too.

I’m guessing the fuzzy just went gooey, right?.

Welcome to the charmingly-sensitive mind of Nev Schulman – creator and star of MTV’s outrageously successful Catfish. Only 24 hours in and Nev has rocked the LoveBoat of Brand Loyalty @canneslions by providing a heart-breaking argument that social networking may win you friends, but only the hopelessly romantic (AKA, naïve) brands can expect those friends to be monogamists.

Millennial love, it would seem, is hard won and easily lost.

The Sensitive Side of Selling

KIIP founder and CEO, Brian Wong is one of those rare breeds who could sell salt water to the early morning waders @canneslions beachfront. His energy, enthusiasm and absolute self belief is intoxicating.

But then, he has much to be enthusiastic about.

Brian has developed and embraced “In the Moment” commerce – that’s the point at which brands interact with people when they’re hyper-engaged through mobile – and Brian, as you might expect, has the facts to prove it’s worth.

Basic concept: knowing human behaviour is one thing. Knowing when and how to connect with people when they’re at their most sensitive is something more seismic.

It sort of goes like this. Rewards are more acceptable than ads. So if I’ve just finished a 10km charity run or simply downloaded a recipe for tonight’s dinner, don’t get in my face your cutest campaign. Give me free access to your latest isotonic drink or give me a voucher for your supermarket chain. Then watch me become your greatest advocate.

Simple, right? But then the best ideas are (something that’s already becoming clearly evident @canneslions).

Campaign innovation, by all accounts,, needs to get all sensitive again.

Touch Me

If the first half of Cannes was about love and loyalty, the second was about the sum of those parts. And then some.

Loosely put, we’re talking about human behaviour. Which, it would appear, is particularly loose indeed.

You see, for all the focus on big data, analytics and interpretation, there’s an emerging view that we’re in danger of completely missing the point.

Neuro-science, sociology and anthropology has been around (give or take a few years) since Eve. Only now is the industry beginning to embrace it in a fashion that eschews number crunching in favour of a solid interpretation of human response to situations.

Of course, that doesn’t diminish the value of data. But what it does is forces the attention on to the unequivocally ambiguous area of how context profoundly influences the human response to a situation.

For the PR industry, we have to be as lateral in our hiring policy as we are in our thinking. Data analysts, strategists and planners will continue to be the roles in demand. But it’s the people that fill the gaps between them that will truly form the future of our industry.

Data curators are the new breed of mind engineers who are able to bridge the divide between researchers and analysts and analysts and strategists. Without them we’ll become frustrated in a world where we have unparalleled intelligence, but little understanding of what it means to those with whom we seek to engage.

The engagement era has only just begun.

My Creative Heartthrob

For all the dialogue, discussion and debate @canneslions about the growing tension between industry disciplines, it took an Oscar-winning actor to make it real.

Jared Leto – writer, director, musician, actor, technology advisor and total heartthrob – has zero interest in his chosen discipline on any one day. For him, creativity is at the centre of everything. That and hard work (“the bridge between reality and success is work”).

What made the extraordinarily affable Mr Leto such a delight to spend an hour with (me and 1000 gushing others) was the simplicity of his language and his complete and utter appreciation for everything that was good and inspiring and free spirited. His message was pure and passionate too. The “we” will always trump the “I”. With inclusion comes liberation, he said.

I came to Cannes expecting many things. But I didn’t expect a Hollywood star to be the most enlightening force of the week.

Love. Liberty. And Leto. I’m totally sold.

Ian Rumsby is chief strategy officer, APAC and chairman of Weber Shandwick Australia

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