What does Cannes’ 2019 buzzword, ‘Purpose’ mean for young creatives?

Matt Bladin is the co-chair of the Victorian Youngbloods Committee and was recently 1 of 30 creatives in the world selected to attend the prestigious Young Lions Creative Academy. This festival long master-class brings a global network of young creatives alongside some of the industry’s best (including main stage speakers) in an intensive workshop setting.

When David Droga took to The Grand Theatre Lumiere on the final night of Cannes to present the prestigious Grand Prix for Sustainable Development Goals he opened with this thought; “For the first time in far too many years of judging these awards I have looked at the best work and not thought, wow I wish I did that but rather, wow I’m glad someone did that”.

It wasn’t the first time this week that we in the Creative Academy had heard someone say this. We knew David’s comment was emblematic of a communal idea that had dominated this year’s judging. The idea that creative advertising’s power is most rewarding when it uplifts a deserving audience outside of our own echo-chamber. With this in mind, it's no surprise that the buzzword of 2019 was ‘purpose’.

‘Purpose’ defines work that is more than just a clever expression of a brand; it has to have a deeper contribution to the audience’s lives. While authenticity, humanity and reach are all essential considerations, to truly be ‘purposeful’ the creative idea must have longevity. It needs to have continued impact beyond the lifespan of any marketing and media budget.

Pushing an idea to become a scalable, long-term solution doesn’t need to be a burden on a creative concept. Several grand prix winners this year did it quite easily - in fact it’s probably why they won.

McCann Tel Aviv’s ‘ThisAbles’ for Ikea won two Grand Prixs in a single day (Health & Wellness and Pharma categories). They created a range of 3D printable extensions for their furniture that means customers of any ability can now operate the handles, switches, draws etc. It’s the kind of idea that makes you feel good just knowing it now exists.

ThisAbles is simple in theory but was painstakingly crafted to medical-grade perfection to ensure it delivers on its promise. So rather than keeping these life changing innovations for themselves Ikea did the best thing they could, they put the designs online for anyone to download and print for free. This simple act scaled the furniture extensions from product accessories into tools of self-empowerment for the future of the mixed-ability community - at no extra cost to the campaign. You don’t need to be an internet historian to know that once something on the world wide web it lives forever.

The longevity of a purposeful idea isn’t just defined by a physical leave-behind in the world. Amazing creativity can create a long lasting impact by tapping into empathetic hearts, minds and eventually shifting culture.

Director Alfonso Cuaron’s 3X Oscar winning film, Roma, was stunning example of cinema craft. But also the creative catalyst for new American legislation that will protect immigrant workers for years to come. Cuaron believed in the cultural conversation Roma could start around stay in-home Mexican workers in South and North America. Working with production company Participant, Wieden+Kennedy and The Domestic Workers Alliance they looked at how they could turn this conversation into a turning point for the welfare of future immigrant workers.

The carefully planned and beautifully orchestrated campaign that followed the film’s release amplified public discourse and put pressure on politicians to draft a bill to congress that grants basic workers-rights and protections. Any campaign that starts a conversation is good, but aiming to fix broken laws for 1.8 million workers was celebrated as truly purposeful. It takes an average of 300 days for a U.S law to be changed, which means when passed, this bill is set to outlast the current presidential-term.

The work we celebrate at Cannes sets the benchmark for future creative-advertising. But as ‘purpose’ becomes the framework by which awarding-winning work is judged it’s important to remember that truly great work continues its impact in the real world long after the lights and cameras of the festival ceremonies. As young creatives we have more responsibility than ever to ensure that the standard of excellence values this, because ultimately we’re the ones who’ll inherit the world our work has shaped.