Cannes Lions 2023: A first-timer’s journey with Paul Scarf and Joel Trethowan

Paul Scarf and Joel Trethowan in cannes

“The experience reminded us that our industry is literally built for embracing change”

Paul Scarf and Joel Trethowan, Co-founders of Alchemy One, share their insights about attending Cannes for the first time and what they will bring back to Australia. 

The sheer magnitude of the magic that is Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – with its kaleidoscope of activities happening simultaneously – left us ready to dive into the amazing chaos that ensued. Over 5 days we embarked on an adventure that would test our stamina, our FOMO levels (as there is just so much on) and our feet (we both hit new daily records of close to 30,000 steps a day), but ultimately inspire and challenge us in so many powerful ways.

Out the other side and reflecting on our time after the incredible talks, the huge amount of inspiring people we met, and the experience of it all, we wanted to share some of our key takeouts from breaking our Cannes Lions virginity.

AI as an Ally: Of course AI’s transformative role within the industry was a prominent theme throughout the week, so let’s cover it straight up. Standout presentations from Google and Accenture emphasised the imminent revolution we are on the brink of. Agencies are embracing AI to streamline processes and alleviate mundane tasks, with examples such as AI-generated voice-overs for selling work at an early stage, utilising Midjourney to showcase diverse talent beyond stock imagery, and employing GPT for decision tree copy in customer responses. The key outtake was that while AI operates at a rapid pace, it lacks the curation and subjective “taste” necessary to drive the industry forward. Nonetheless, AI remains a powerful ally, capable of enhancing creativity and efficiency in advertising and needs to be embraced.


Sustainability Shuffle: This year witnessed remarkable strides in the industry’s commitment to sustainability, with campaign entries now required to disclose their carbon footprints. The new social platform on the block WeAre8 has emerged as an antidote to the amplification of fake news and toxicity, placing people at the forefront whilst having sustainability built into the product from the ground up with SAM-i, its sustainable ads manager. Addressing the pressing issue of brand safety, platforms like Pinterest reemerge as heroes by prioritising the power of play and creativity whilst committing to becoming the most positive corner of the internet, and also taking a stand against advertising from harmful industries. Amidst this positive momentum, the industry still grapples with the complex task of carbon measurement, stumbling in the transition to net zero. As holding groups struggle to find answers free from influence by their fossil fuel clients, independents have a unique opportunity to unite and collaborate in finding sustainable solutions together.

See Also: Why Pinterest’s Melinda Petrunoff says that “it pays to be positive”

Boldness and Trust: These were some of the guiding principles at the festival, emphasising the crucial role of agency partners and clients working together to create magic. Magic could only be created, however, if there was a strong cross-platform hygiene strategy as the foundation, resonating strongly with media agency delegates. The festival reaffirmed the significance of setting short and long-term KPIs and goals for bold work – a common challenge for agencies and CMOs when presenting to CFOs and stakeholders less involved in the process, changing the lens from seeing marketing as a cost centre to a growth centre. Long-term case studies, like AB InBev’s Corona campaign in China, showcased the value of enduring partnerships and the journey taken by all stakeholders. It wasn’t just about talking the talk, but truly walking the walk and forging a deep bond built on mutual respect and a shared vision for success.


Marketing Effectiveness: This was understandably a core theme, and there was some incredible new and inspiring work from WARC and the LinkedIn B2B Institute released around the Promise To The Customer. The research emphasised the impact of promise-based campaigns on brand health, market share, and long-term sales. The study examined how delivering on brand promises and building trust can drive significant business outcomes. By adopting customer-centric strategies and aligning messaging and experiences with brand promises, companies can establish strong connections with consumers, leading to increased brand loyalty and sustainable growth. The research underscores the importance of authenticity and delivering value to customers to build long-term success in the market.

See Also: Ed Pank: The car analogy driving efficiency and effectiveness for WARC

Brand Performance: In the face of growing economic pressures, the industry emphasised the importance of a holistic approach to measurement, and the need for every piece of creative to drive results. The brands that will emerge victorious are those that seamlessly combine brand building and performance into a unified approach. By recognising the importance of establishing long-term value and emotional connections with consumers through brand building, alongside the ability to drive short-term results through performance marketing, companies can unlock incredible potential. A standout example of this integration was seen in McDonald’s presentation, where they sustained relevance and attracted an additional two million users to their McDonald’s app by hosting a concert within the platform. This highlights the power of merging brand-building initiatives with performance-driven tactics to achieve exceptional outcomes.

Paul Scarf and Joel Trethowan

As we bid adieu to the outstanding world of Cannes Lions, we carry with us the extraordinary inspiration of campaigns, inspiring insights, and the chance to meet new connections that have already made such an impact on us. The experience reminded us that our industry is literally built for embracing change, and we are blessed to work in an industry full of such incredible people, eager to make a difference.

Cannes Lions was a blast, and whilst we are both completely sleep deprived, we wouldn’t change it for a thing. It gave us so much energy and inspiration to keep striving forward with driving change and a deep sense of how powerful our platform is as an industry to make history.

Top Image: Paul Scarf and Joel Trethowan

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