Cannes is a beautiful place to visit, particularly during summer. The sea is azure blue, the air smells sweet and there are more yachts anchored in the Cannes harbour than I have ever seen in my entire life. This is the French Riviera, playground of the rich and famous. Yet for an entire week, this town gives way to more than 10,000 marketers and advertising folk who visit here to attend the world’s greatest festival of creativity — the Cannes Lions.

I was at the Festival this year, and had the opportunity to listen to some amazing sessions delivered by brilliant minds — including marketers, advertising people, singers, film makers, influencers, CEOs, professors and restaurateurs. Here are five lessons I am carrying back with me.

Experiment with Gen AI

A key theme running across the festival was Generative Artificial Intelligence. Everyone was talking about AI this year. The clear advice from many speakers was to experiment rapidly with Generative AI, and, specifically, to take up tangible marketing problems for which the tools of AI can be thoughtfully applied.

I learnt from Pratik Thakar of the Coca-Cola company, who was part of an excellent panel discussion at the Microsoft beach pavilion, that he has just moved from handling the brand to being Head of Generative AI for the company. This is the first time I have heard of such a position being created by a large company, but it is a sign of our times. He also shared some wonderful examples of recent Generative AI applications at Coca-Cola.

Many senior people whom I met acknowledged that they had, in earlier years, overestimated the short-term impact of shiny new tech-things such as metaverse, NFTs and cryptocurrency. However, in the case of Generative AI, they have a clear view that this is not a fad which will fade away. On the other hand, it is a transformative mainstream development comparable to the start of the internet.

Search for big ideas

The best marketing campaigns I saw in Cannes, including the ones that walked away with the most prestigious Grand Prix and Gold Lions, were inevitably the product of simple, bold ideas that dovetailed beautifully into the core of the brand. Outstanding campaigns such as “My Japanese Railway” from Dentsu Japan, Adidas’ Runner 321 created by FCB Toronto, Dove’s #TurnYourBack created by Ogilvy London in partnership with David Madrid, and India’s own “Cadbury Celebrations Shah Rukh Khan – My ad” stood out for being novel, impactful and so beautifully crafted. All these four campaigns won the Grand Prix. Please do see them online whenever you can.

These and many other campaigns brought to mind my biggest single-line takeaway from this festival, which was from Alessandro Manfredi, Chief Marketing Officer for Dove at Unilever. He told us — “We need to make our brands unmissable.” That requires a constant search for big ideas.

Strategy = sacrifice

The best campaigns I saw were also based on narrow strategies that highlighted one and just one sharp point that the brand wishes to make. For instance, Apple’s advertisement film “The Greatest” is a longish two minute spot which showcases only the brand’s innovative accessibility features. It also uses an all physically challenged cast to make this point very powerfully. We know that Apple products have many interesting features, but this film is all about acknowledging the challenges that come with disability, and how the brand can help. It stays totally focused on this narrowly defined objective.

Tor Myhren, Apple’s Vice President of Marketing Communications, made this point very compellingly when he said that strategy is all about sacrifice, about giving up everything that is not of the essence for that particular marketing campaign. He went on to say, “The best strategies are very narrow. Make them so narrow that they can dance on the head of a pin.” That is sound advice for marketers who are tempted to say a little more every time their brand speaks.

Express emotions

What advice will I carry back to young Indian marketers from Cannes? I think the best I heard this year was from Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing and bestselling author. He urged young marketers to immerse themselves totally in the specific area that they like. “Express interest,” he said, “express emotion. Take risks every day. Make friends. Take chances. Tell your parents that you love them.” I thought I saw him break down a little bit when he said this, particularly the last bit.

I totally endorse Prof Galloway’s sentiments. To be a very successful marketer, you have to know how to express emotion, because great brands are built on emotion. The best speakers in Cannes expressed emotion fearlessly, and it resonated with us. And yes, you have to take risks, because bold new ideas and moves inevitably entail risks.

Though I have bid goodbye to Cannes, I think I will remember my lessons from there for a long, long time.

(Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. Forbes listed him among the top 10 most influential marketers in the world this year which was announced in Cannes last week. These are his personal views.)