Cannes Lions: 'Maker culture' in advertising

Dheeraj Sinha
In the last decade, the conversation in advertising has been about the advent of digital. Every conference and award show has been rife with chatter about how the language is shifting from traditional to digital. While many agencies and marketers are still in the process of embracing the principles of a digitally-enabled world, I think there is a new era dawning upon us.


This is the era of innovations that solve real-life and business problems, using disciplines, assets and materials that are not typically used by ad and marketing folks. This is an opportunity where you solve a problem not through words and pictures, as advertising has always done, but through the use of technology, data, architecture, and even manufacturing.


Advertising is finally beginning to embrace the 'maker culture', where it isn't just about an idea, but about making it. Therefore, the Lions Innovation at Cannes is fast emerging as one of the most future-facing and prestigious categories. The initiative that won the Grand Prix in this category — Humanium — a new metal created from melted firearms and used to make all kinds of products from watches to bicycles, is an idea that celebrates this new face of communication. Humanium is not a print ad or a television commercial. It is a new metal developed to deliver the message of peace. True to its intent, it is positioned as the commodity of peace.


Similarly, there is a case study of how Dentsu Japan collaborated with Toyota to develop solutions that led to the successful launch and positioning of their vehicle: i-Road. This vehicle is a new concept in urban mobility that is a cross between a car and a motorbike.


The solution by Dentsu, which is titled, 'The Open Road Project', was to run several experiments with riders to understand the pain-points of the new vehicle. A prominent one was the cost of parking in urban Japan.


While i-Road is less than half the size of a small car, its riders would have to pay the full parking charge meant for cars, which is expensive in Japan. Thus was born the idea of co-opting and crowdsourcing small, unused spaces such as those under a staircase or outside a grocery store, as i-Road's designated parking spots, finally leading to a digital map of these slots.


There is no print or television advertising involved here. But what it does have is a real solution to a real problem, made in such an innovative way that it amplifies the innovative spirit of the product, thereby doubling up as its brand message.


Closer home, our own project (by Leo Burnett India for HP Lubricants), 'Roads That Honk' which is a radar-based collision warning system, designed mainly for hairpin bends, is an example of how brands are becoming a part of people's lives in letter and spirit.


Smart poles are basically put up on either sides of a hairpin bend, which alerts drivers of incoming vehicles by sounding a honk and flashing an amber light. The solution feeds on Indian behaviour, where honking is the language of the road, using technology, design and manufacturing to solve a real problem. This idea, which was one of the seven winners at the Cannes Lions Innovation awards this year, gives advertising new material to play with, beyond words and visuals.


This kind of marketing is also a win-win for everyone. People benefit from the brand's commitment to doing something real, brands build a lasting platform that's not limited by a quick burst of media spends, and agencies get to elevate the purpose of their creativity beyond just a headline and a television commercial.


The 'maker' approach to advertising also demands that we hire makers — design, technology and data experts. It also pushes us to be open-sourced rather than close-sourced, encouraging us to collaborate with talent that we may not have in-house.


This may be coming to our industry later than it has in other fields, but the rise of the 'maker culture' is certainly the beginning of a new and promising era in advertising.

  The author is chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett, South Asia

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