Silver linings from the pandemic are certainly a handful of conversations that not only adland, but many other industries have had since we collectively gained some hindsight on the happenings from the past two years. One of these for the industry certainly is the renaissance of e-commerce and the ways in which it has rapidly changed to accommodate new ways of living and new shopping pathways that we all, as consumers, are now exploring for the first time.
That is precisely why this year, for the first time, Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is officially announcing the newest category: ‘Creative Commerce’. Headed by Beth Ann Kaminkow, global CEO of VMLY&R Commerce as jury president, the new addition to the categories promises a breath of fresh air in the e-commerce world and provides for new debates within the industry, ranging from creativity, to what it means to have a truly seamless end-to-end consumer journey.
With the changing behaviour of consumers on and offline, the rapidly emerging new AR/VR consumer experiences in-store and the birth of the metaverse as a vessel for commerce, the Creative Commerce category proves to be one to watch this year at Cannes. LBB’s Zoe Antonov caught up with Beth Ann to hear her thoughts and expectations.
LBB> How are you preparing for the jury room this year?
Beth Ann> The first stage of preparing is getting to know the jury. It's really important for all of us to have some chemistry and have a strong feeling and sense of collaboration together. [A sense] that we're doing something pretty special and significant and inspiring our group with that vision for what's ahead and the body of work that we're getting to judge.
The second part of that is really giving them some criteria and having some strong discussions about what we’re looking for in the work that we're going to be reviewing and rewarding. I think that's really important because there's so much work and it's easy to start to lose a centre of gravity or lose focus. And so being really clear about this category and the intention behind it, the definitions that we're putting in place behind it, is super important - especially given that this is a launch year.
And then the last piece in preparation has really been reviewing work. My weekends and nights, as well as all of my fellow jury participants', have all been about getting into the work and reviewing the pieces of work, as well as doing everything that's necessary to give each piece of work the time and the assessment and analysis necessary.
LBB> What are you on the lookout for this year when it comes to the Creative Commerce category and what do you hope to see?
Beth Ann> Some of that is still forming but I think the first thing that we're looking for is work that converts. So it's really important in this category that the ROI and the results are focused on truly driving conversion and there is a transactional component to that. That's the first thing that we're looking for. And then we're also looking for the ‘creativity’ piece of that commerce to be linked to the journey to purchase - to the moment of purchase, the transaction, the payment across media and across channels. So there is a broad way that that can be expressed, but the creativity is being applied to solving for a paying point in the purchase journey or rethinking, creatively, new tools and mechanics that can be used towards purchase. That is where we really see the creativity showing up.
I think we're still working this out. When we talk about creativity, it's both the creativity and idea in thinking and now in the use of data tools, as well as just creativity in a more classic sense in terms of the visceral, the design, the way that a consumer is going to experience the engagement as well.
LBB> What is it about the category that you’re judging that really excites or interests you?
Beth Ann> What really excites me is that it is truly consumer-centric. It is a recognition that the way consumers are behaving today has changed, and it's changing how we as marketers need to understand consumers and how we need to design differently for those consumers that are, as brands or on behalf of brands, going to be interacting with. [A recognition] that consumers are not distinguishing between an upper funnel and a lower funnel, that there is now a chance in a single moment to get people to understand a brand's equity and what a brand stands for and a brand's purpose and value proposition at the same time that you're deepening them into a sense of engagement with a brand that can be about experience. And at the same time that you're getting someone to want to click to buy.
I think this sort of collapsing, if you will, of a funnel, of a journey, of what used to be a classic path to purchase has really changed. And we can understand that change differently than we ever could before, by really looking at and understanding the signals that the consumer is sending; the behaviour that a consumer is engaging in and what is relevant, what resonates with consumers today in new ways.
Creative commerce is really at the forefront of the creativity that brands get to leverage to best engage with, in the most relevant ways for the consumers that they're looking to target. It's about the ability to target in new ways - whether that's about acquisition and expanding into new generations and new markets - or if it's about retargeting or retention of a target. [It’s] that application of also really understanding who our consumer is and that sense of reflecting a purposeful campaign or idea that is driving conversion with that target. And it’s what we're seeing through a lot of the work.
LBB> And what are the current big debates within that specific category - or more generally across the industry - that you expect to see coming through in the judging?
Beth Ann> One big debate is: ‘Is the idea truly commerce-led?’. Is the creativity that we're judging truly about commerce or was a transaction a byproduct of really good work? So should it be in the mobile category or the entertainment category, for instance, if commerce is not really the centre of gravity at the heart and at the leading edge of the thinking that we're evaluating?
Another debate is: ‘Is the creativity happening in that commerce execution element of the work? Or is it a massively creative idea that has more to do with the way it was entertaining and engaging, and less to do with the way that we're thinking about purchasing and buying a product?’.
Another debate we're having is, we still see the work that goes out that's more purpose-driven and for a cause, for a charity. And while there are some great examples of work that we're seeing in that space, what we're really looking for right now is the commercial reality of brands and how brands are beginning to show up and leverage this new creative commerce space. So I think that will be something that we continue to discuss as a jury together.
The last one is: Understanding the difference between something that is clever as a gimmick but maybe not sustainable and highlighting the industry work that we would all be envious and jealous of and want to be inspired by for the future. There's been work that I've had a very strong visceral reaction to, and I thought, ‘Wow, that's really cool.’ But when I really dug into it and thought about it more rigorously, I felt it was a moment-in-time kind of gimmick more than it was something establishing new ways of thinking about creativity.
LBB> It’s the first in-person Cannes since the start of the pandemic, like a pivotal moment for an industry that’s been massively disrupted - how do you think that’s going to shape your thinking about your category in particular?
Beth Ann> Well, I think it's going to have an effect in terms of the fun. And I think it will certainly have an effect in terms of the collaboration and the conversation that takes place with the jury itself. I've done some virtual juries, not for Cannes but for other award shows, and it was tough to get into it and have the debates, to read body language and to just feel like you're truly joined up in a way that makes for a really good judging experience. So I think that in person, value is going to be generated for sure - in how we think about the judging conversations and the ability to really engage around the work that we want to highlight and choose, and giving everyone the real, inclusive moment to air their own opinions and to have the debate.
I think the other piece is that this is going to be a Cannes that we will all remember for a long time, for several reasons. Coming back in person as an industry… hopefully those that can come in person, who are still following along, generate a different kind of energy. And then I think the fact that this is the launch of the true creative commerce evolution is going to be one that we will always remember - and I think the industry will as well. I think it's a massive turning point and acknowledgement of what's possible now. A lot of the behaviour change that we saw take place because of the pandemic enabled and opened up this opportunity for creative commerce to have this pivotal moment in the industry. So I don't think we would have been here creatively in the commerce space, in the way that we are, if it wasn't for a silver lining from the pandemic.
LBB> And do you think that people are still overlooking that a little bit or do you think adland is realising that this renaissance in creative commerce is actually happening and creativity is a huge part of it as well?
Beth Ann> Well, I think there are two things happening. I think the Commerce category is always going to be underestimated to some degree. One, perhaps because of shopper marketing routes. But I also think that the minute you say ‘commerce’ or ‘commercial reality’, you start thinking very transactional, tactical, lower funnel and I think that's why we think it is so ripe for creative disruption. But I also think it's one reason why it is underestimated as a space.
Secondly, part of it is when disruption occurs and everyone starts to evolve and transform because of it, you almost forget what it was like before. So much has happened in such a short period of time that it's almost hard to remember when purchasing everything and anything in a moment online was not possible, or through multiple channels, or using our mobile phones to create a different kind of AR/VR augmented experience in a physical store, that leads us to an online purchase or purchase on a live streaming app. I think all of those things are just things that have occurred at such a pace and so recently that it's easy to take it all for granted.
LBB> What do you think the role of the metaverse in all of this is or will be in the future? What are the new pathways opening in this creative space for commerce, and how brands will be able to interact with them?
Beth Ann> I think it opens up a very important world for shopping and commerce and, unlike other areas that are questioning its viability (‘is it really a long term space for certain types of creativity?’) - when it comes to commerce, I absolutely think it is.
We are seeing that already in some of the early work. And I would say most of the work that was submitted [to the Creative Commerce Lions] that has a metaverse component, was very worth taking a look at and learning from and understanding what worked and what didn't work. Coming back to the idea of being targeted - it reached a very real audience with a very strong impression and oftentimes commercial results attached to it. So I think it's a space that we have to be taking seriously.
What I love about it too - like I always have when it comes to innovation - is it also requires us to bring in new talent into our agencies and into the industry. To bring in a native talent that has either been gaming or has been spending a considerable amount of time in virtual realities to make sure that the functionality and the utility is true to the space. So I think when you hit that, you can just see amazing things happen. I love the ability to bring in new talent that is going to help guide us to new ways of working.
LBB> Any final thoughts?
Beth Ann> My main takeaway would just be to continue to promote the opportunity to look at our work differently and to approach briefs differently. To think commerce first. Oftentimes that might lead to real sustainable ideas that build brands and drive consumer engagement, as well as have a commercial outcome. And what business right now doesn't want to be thinking that all of their money being spent on creativity is driving commercial outcomes.
The last thing I'll say to add on to that is, it's not just about spending media dollars, you're now talking about earned media, you're talking about network effects. This is creating a real virtuous cycle.