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The Cannes Lions Innovation Category: “Both Borderless and Boundless”
Advertising Agency
New York, USA
Cleve Gibbon, Cannes Lions Innovation jury president and chief technology officer of Wunderman Thompson Americas, speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about ideas that lead to disbelief and happiness about ample entries with the power to improve the planet’s future

Entries to the Cannes Lions Innovation category have the power to take one’s breath away, take you to places you’ve never imagined possible and even leave you with a healthy dose of disbelief. At least, this is the experience that Cleve Gibbon, this year’s jury president in Cannes and the chief technology officer at Wunderman Thompson Americas, has experienced while overseeing the jury. 

The category’s winners are set to be announced tomorrow, Thursday 22nd June. LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with him just in time to pick his brains on all things innovation, its “borderless and boundless” characteristics, and how he’s been happily surprised about the number of entries with the power to change our future for the better. 

LBB> How did you prepare for the jury room this year?

Cleve> Like any room, you want it to feel comfortable, safe, and somewhere you want to spend time. This year, the room is a healthy mix of online and offline that welcomes some super-smart, seasoned practitioners from the marketing and advertising industry. It’s a diverse bunch who check their roles and egos at the door.

LBB> What is it about the Innovation category that really excites or interests you?

Cleve> The innovation category is both borderless and boundless. The quality spectrum is vast. Entries can take your breath away with wonder, take you places you never imagined possible, or leave you with an unhealthy dose of disbelief. Innovation is the right balance of idea plus executable, what I call executable ideas. I tend to favour executable good ideas over non-executable great ideas. And ideas that will thrive long after the Cannes festival closes for 2022.

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?

Cleve> Circularity is a big theme across the entries. Basically, as a business, whatever you do, leave the world in a better place than you found it. Sustainability, accessibility, DE&I are innovation table stakes and seldom debated.

The interesting discussions stem from getting to the bottom of innovations ‘for the purpose’ versus ‘for the award’. The innovation must persist beyond Cannes and serve the purpose it was set up to achieve. Whether the idea originated from an agency, a brand, or a vendor is not the real concern. Instead, is the innovation an executable idea that creates value, delivers impact, has relevance, and reaches everywhere it needs to be? Or is this a gimmick that lives and dies with Cannes?

Finally, the word creativity. It means different things to different people. For me, it’s the ability to make something, whatever your core discipline is. You don’t have to be a member of ‘the creative department’ to be creative.  

LBB> Last year’s Grand Prix winner - The World’s First Adaptive Deodorant - was actually extremely analogue. What are your thoughts on that and separating work like that from very technical innovation?

Cleve> The final product is analogue, but the process to deliver it wasn’t. Degree Inclusive started within an impromptu conversation at CES triggering a set of rapid prototyping exercises that ultimately led to it being awarded a Grand Prix at Cannes. You can prefix innovation with many things - creative, brand, product, digital, just to name a few. People fixate on technology when they treat it as a versus rather than a plus. Technology enables innovation. Rather than separating it out, we should get comfortable with the enabling role it plays in innovation and focus on the intended outcome, and judge that. 

LBB> We’re more than two years into covid but I feel like clients are still having to accelerate the rate with which they’re evolving and changing. What are your thoughts on that and its implications for the Innovation category?

Cleve> Today is the slowest rate that your business will evolve and change. For many businesses, covid proved that we can innovate faster when the only other option is to die.  Humans prefer linear growth, but the right application of technology on well-publicised trends brings exponential rewards for those that embrace innovation as a capability. Year after year, you can see which companies value innovation and invest in it as a strategic imperative. The fact that innovation is key to growth means more clients should be doing rather than dreaming about it. The resultant entries submitted to the Innovation category will continue to be diverse, unique, brave and bold. This year’s entries were inspiring - tackling grand planetary challenges and societal issues, and being purpose-driven whilst remaining profitable. The bar will only be higher next year.

LBB> Innovation covers such a vast array of platforms and mediums. What do you think is the hardest part of judging the entries?

Cleve> The borderless and boundless nature of innovation means there is quite the spread of ideas and execution strategies. Some innovations over-index on the idea or execution. Others simply make it hard to get to the truth behind the innovation. And, this year, we may have reached the tipping point of more entries applying AI than not. But the hardest part is not navigating products and platform ecosystems, it’s choosing between innovations that deliver great outcomes that are wildly different and yet all deserve the recognition that comes with a Cannes Lions. It’s judging between good and better.  

LBB> It’s the first in-person Cannes since the start of the pandemic, 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?

Cleve> It’s less about shaping my thinking, and more about our thinking with others. We are a team judging in the same room together, reading and feeding off one another as some of the best creative innovations in the industry are shared with us. Personally, I thrive in teams and the innovation category is a team sport. The idea needs to land with everyone if there is any hope of successfully executing it.  

LBB> Cannes is also a time of celebration. What will you be celebrating this year?

Cleve> I’m celebrating family this year. I have four kids that in 2022 will all be at the big ages in their life: one, 16, 18, and 21. A lot of the innovation entries this year got creative in building a better future for the young to grow up in. That alone gives me cause to celebrate the intersection of Cannes and our children. That was something I didn’t expect to see. 

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