Creativity and Portfolio Building Abroad: Cannes Lions & Branding & Ads, Oh My!

Professors Julie Ferguson and Juan Mundel and DePaul students network on Twitter Beach during the Cannes Lion Festival of Creativity 2019.
By Niki Sasiela

Just do it. I’m lovin’ it. Think different.

These simple phrases have the power to define our economy, our identities, and our culture. Advertising is everywhere: the logos on the clothing we wear, wrapped around the trains during our daily commutes, on our phones when we scroll through our social media feeds. You can’t escape it.

Yet, as advertising appears to be unavoidable and annoying for many consumers, it raises a challenge for marketers as brands strive to make authentic connections that are truly impactful. Tools such as the ‘skip-button’ on pre-roll videos, no-ad premium subscription services on platforms such as Hulu, and our participatory social media culture have pushed marketers to think creatively on how to get consumers to enjoy advertising again. At the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, the brands and innovative thinkers who are able to solve this problem are recognized.

Cannes Lion Festival of Creativity is a five-day experience that recognizes leaders in the field of branding communications. The largest names in the advertising and public relations industry as well as celebrity guests gather to discuss, honor, and celebrate the achievements of marketing campaigns on a globalized-scale. With inspirational talks from influential speakers, hands-on workshops, and endless networking opportunities; the festival is the hub for professionals in the communications industry.

DePaul University’s Creativity & Portfolio Building Abroad Program allows students to attend Cannes Lions, followed by a-two week visit to the Netherlands and Spain. The goal of this program is to give students a hands-on experience with the ad industry from a globalized perspective. For the past three weeks, I was one of the 16 DePaul students that took part of this program. This immersive experience has not only affected my outlook on the professional world of advertising, but has also changed my perspective on my personal life. Having the opportunity to explore new cultures and challenge my professional skills through real-world experience has been the most fulfilling educational experience in my college career.

Below are three of the most important take-aways from my experience aboard.

1. In a World Full of Data, Storytelling Wins

If I had to pick the most important lesson from Cannes Lions 2019, I would repeat the need to focus on ‘the power of storytelling’. As technology continues to evolve to track consumers’ everyday lives and advertisers focus more on the backing decisions with data, it is important not to neglect the influence that creative storytelling has on audiences. Creating authentic connections with consumers establishes brand loyalty, which then leads to impactful results.

Among the myriad of presentations during the festival, “Reimagine Creativity Through Love and Humanity” which was moderated by P&G’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, renowned journalist Katie Couric, and recording artist John Legend, will stay with me for a long time. In this round-table discussion, the three discussed how important it is that brands listen to their consumers and take-part in culturally relevant conversations, as public opinions’ perceptions on brands dictate their purchasing decisions. Pritchard discussed how P&G’s campaigns “The Talk” and “The Look” truly resonated with African American audiences because of its authentic storytelling. These two short film style advertisements highlight the story of how members of the African American community are marginalized through racial biases, which deeply resonated with consumers’ personal experiences. These two films launched their “My Black is Beautiful” initiative, which resulted a world-wide conversation to erupt on social media about how the stories personally impacted individuals; earning a few Lions in the process.

Thus, having proper representation and authentic stories being told can truly impact audiences and brands for the better. At times, the decision to tell relevant stories can face backlash, such as Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” campaign which launched in early 2019. Pritchard referenced the campaign within the presentation and stated how the intentions of the campaign were to get people to “pause, reflect, and challenge themselves” through the ad, rather than just sell razors. Thus, initiating conversation through effective storytelling can lead to a brand differentiating themselves within the eyes of the consumer and in the marketplace.

2. Simplicity Matters

Less is more. The most memorable and iconic campaigns all center around this idea. Condensing a brand’s identity to a few images or words is easier said than done. However, those who are able to do so can achieve greatness and establish success within the market. From Apple to Coca-Cola; these brands have been able to establish an iconic status amongst consumers through authentic brand voice and simplification of messaging.

At Cannes Lions, I also attended a presentation by Apple’s Vice President of Marketing Communications, Tor Myhren. Myhren explained how their strategy of simplicity has been ingrained in their DNA since their launch in 1976, which has led to their globalized success. Apple’s campaigns strategically utilize heavy imagery and little copy, in order to establish a “universal language” association among all consumers. Recognizing this insight is crucial to establishing a globalized brand and key factor to keep in mind when tackling business problems. Elaborate campaigns can be creative. But simple campaigns can be legendary.

Professor Leontine van Geffen from Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences delivered a workshop on effective Instagram marketing during our visit in the Netherlands.

3. Recognize The Globalized Marketplace

Communicating a brand’s message amongst different countries and cultures is not an easy task. As our world is vast, it appears to be becoming smaller as social media is creating an interconnected world at the touch of our fingertips. Thus, utilizing media platforms and proper storytelling can take a brand to new heights by having the power to translate messages across borders.

For this study abroad program, we were asked to create three full campaigns that were focused on communicating with intercultural consumers for three different clients. For example, in Spain we had to create, launch, and advertise a “tapas line” for McDonalds restaurants across the country. During this assignment challenges did arise, as prior to this program most of us had little experience creating a campaign that was targeted to a foreign market. More often than not, the campaigns we create in class are targeted towards the American population. Thus, having the challenge to appeal to a new population of individuals required more research and attention to detail. For instance, translations of copy from English to Spanish could interfere with the intention of the desired creative execution. As thinking about these minor details were troublesome at times; it is the reality of our globalized marketplace.

One element of the trip that allowed us to gain insight on how to properly execute globalized marketing was having direct interaction with students from each of the countries we visited. Our group was able to collaborate and connect with students from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Universidad de Barcelona to help with our campaigns to gain cultural insight about our clients. It was truly an unforgettable experience and allowed us to gain a globalized perspective on brands; which is a skill that will be applicable to our future careers in the industry.

Our study abroad group outside “Double You”, a local advertising agency in Barcelona, Spain where we were able to view their work.

Overall, this study abroad experience has impacted me in more ways than one. Not only was I able to create memories that will last a lifetime, but I have also developed and established relationships with locals from three very different cultures. Having the opportunity to connect with other DePaul students was truly memorable, as working on our international campaigns fostered a level of team-work that I have never had in the classroom. The experience of exploring the cities and immersing ourselves in new cultures allowed for me to form a ‘family’ within my weeks abroad. Additionally, having the opportunity to interact with students from Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Universidad de Barcelona as well as locals in each country allowed for me to appreciate new cultures from a new perspective.

Likewise, having the chance to network with professionals within the advertising industry at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity was a dream come true. As a young advertising professional, being in the presence of all of these innovative thinkers was an educational experience that I will never forget.

I am truly grateful for the experiences and opportunities I had on this trip. A huge thank you to our incredibly talented program leaders, Juan Mundel and Marshall Goldman, for creating this program, guiding us through these three weeks, and enlightening us with all of their industry knowledge. I encourage all students to take advantage of the study abroad programs offered through the different colleges, as having real-world experience abroad will help you excel forward in your professional career and personal life.

 Niki Sasiela is a junior in DePaul University ‘s Public Relations and Advertising program and president of the university’s Ad Society. She aspires to pursue an advertising career in the entertainment field. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

2 thoughts on “Creativity and Portfolio Building Abroad: Cannes Lions & Branding & Ads, Oh My!

  1. Hi, my name is Abby Richardson and I am a sophomore at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. I completely agree with you in that advertising is becoming a lot more challenging in our day and age and requires a lot of creativity. I was curious if you think that the market for advertising is becoming less or more popular with the way our society is? There are so many ways to skip through or scroll past an ad, but there are also so many more opportunities with social media and technology. Let me know your thoughts, thanks!

    1. Traditional advertising remains an effective way to reach the masses, but advertising pros — just like PR folks — are becoming far more strategic in focusing on segments of the population most likely to buy a product or be moved to action by their campaigns. Technology is making it far easier to get the right message to the right consumer. Exciting time for smart people in both of these important areas of communication.

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