Great B2B campaigns that lit up the Cannes Lions last week

This was the biggest international festival of creativity yet for B2B brands – here’s the work that took over Cannes

June 28, 2017

Cannes Lions B2B Winners

What turns a campaign into a Cannes Lions award-winner? What does it take to inspire both awards juries and target audiences? Some creatives will tell you it’s about ambition, others will point to purpose, storytelling or the courage to confront the uncomfortable. Look at this year’s line-up of Cannes Lions winners and it’s clear that such ambition, purpose, storytelling and courage increasingly come from B2B brands.

B2B campaigns walked away with six of the 28 Grand Prix that were awarded at the Cannes Lions festival last week, meaning that B2B brands represented almost a quarter of the winners of the festival’s highest awards for creativity. B2B winners included the Cannes festival’s most awarded campaign, a piece of art that looks likely to be part of the New York City landscape for generations, a brand that is now invited to address the United Nations on environmental issues, and a B2B business celebrating the fact that lots of its potential small business customers can’t get its name right.

These award-winning campaigns are a vivid demonstration of B2B marketing at its best. They show that, with the right, confident approach, B2B brands often have an advantage when it comes to creating purposeful and impactful campaigns.

For this post, I’ve looked into the stories behind eight great B2B campaigns that all won Cannes Lions last week. These campaigns are hugely innovative – but they don't use innovation for innovation’s sake. They’re not in thrall to technology – instead they use the best combination of new and traditional platforms, owned, earned and paid media, to achieve their impact. They delivered against clear objectives through an in-depth understanding of their audiences, their habits and the ideas that could capture their imagination. And they set no limits on how they used those insights to create work that could change both perceptions and behaviour. This is what really purposeful creative marketing looks like. I hope you find the stories as inspiring as I do:

Fearless Girl
State Street Global Advisors
Winner of four Grand Prix: Outdoor, PR, Titanium and Glass

On March 7th, the day before International Women’s Day, a bronze statue appeared on Wall Street, facing down the iconic charging bull sculpture that symbolises capitalism and growth. The ‘fearless girl’, standing confidently and defiantly with her hands on her hips became headline news around the world. She embodied the spirit of women pushing for greater gender equality at all levels of the global economy – and the potential that is overlooked whenever they are excluded. She also helped to transform awareness of an asset management company with a policy of promoting gender equality on the boards of businesses it invests in. State Street Global Advisors didn’t just create a piece of art that’s likely to become part of the New York landscape for generations – it realigned its reputation around a commitment to gender equality and purposeful investing.

Did you mean MailChimp?
Cyber Lions Grand Prix winner

MailChimp is an email marketing service for small businesses, with a strange name that can sometimes confuse its target audience. Its Grand Prix award-winning campaign transformed that potential brand weakness into one of the most daring digital campaigns yet envisaged. At the same time it brilliantly demonstrated a creative platform’s inherent creativity – and digital nous.

MailChimp knew that it didn’t need to keep hammering home its brand name to audiences. If it could persuade them to type similar words into search engines, it could leverage those engines’ predictive capabilities to point them towards the real brand. A clever search engine marketing campaign freed the creative agency Droga5 to create a bizarre line-up of strangely intriguing digital experiences that sounded a lot like MailChimp – but weren’t. From MailShrimp (short film about posted seafood sandwiches, showing in cinemas) to WhaleSynth (a musical app for creating compositions from whale song) and NailChamp (an online nail art competition). Taking over different elements of social media and popular culture meant that MailChimp was everywhere creative-minded businesses might be – even if it wasn’t using its own name. Whenever someone searched for these quirky ideas, they would find MailChimp. A brave departure from one of the pillars of branding – and one that worked brilliantly.

Aland Index
The Bank of Aland
Cyber Lions Grand Prix winner

When your customers inhabit small islands in the midst of one of the world’s most polluted seas, addressing their most pressing issues means taking a different approach to financial services. The Bank of Aland, which serves communities in the middle of the Baltic Sea, created the Aland Index to reveal the environmental cost of all purchases made through a specially designed, biodegradable credit card. Generated from a combination of financial risk and carbon pricing data, the Index gives the most complete view yet of the implications of consumer behaviour.

It’s a truly impressive piece of data management and innovation – but the real power of Aland Index comes from the way it’s designed as an open source platform to engage other financial institutions. Mastercard now makes the Index available to all of its 2.2 billion cardholders across the globe, prompting them to check the impact of their own spending. Others are following suit. The Bank of Aland’s CEO has made several appearances at United Nations conferences on climate change. And in case you thought there was no business benefit to this purposeful marketing, brand awareness for the bank has increased 308% since the campaign’s launch.

Nosferatu – The non-silent film
Getty Images
Cyber Lions Silver winner

How do you make creative businesses aware that one of the world’s most famous stock photo libraries also supplies sound clips? You could send an email or take out an ad. But let’s face it, it’s a lot more fun to take one of the most famous silent movies ever made and engineer a soundtrack for it using your audio files. Nosferatu – the non-silent film is a breathtaking and ambitious technical achievement that works on many levels. It invites audiences to re-engage with a classic that’s transformed through the use of sound engineering. At the same time, innovative audio timelines enable viewers to explore the immense depth of different sounds being used to create their experience – all of which are available through Getty.

Make a Masterpiece
Cyber Lions Silver winner

While Getty was busy reminding creatives about its audio library, Adobe was raising awareness of the creative uses its own stock images could be put to. The two campaigns went head-to-head in the Cyber category – and both deservedly brought home Silver Lions. The inspiration for Adobe’s campaign came from the loss of great paintings – destroyed in war, lost in fires, or stolen never to be returned. The brand reached out to digital artists and asked them to recreate these lost masterpieces using only the imagery available from Adobe. The results were hugely impressive and inspiring, continuing the brand’s proud tradition of using its community of designers to co-create great work.

The Wolf
Cyber Lions Bronze winner

The security of printers isn’t the most high-profile issue in IT – but as this swashbuckling piece of cinematic storytelling from HP demonstrated, it certainly should be. Christian Slater eats up the screen as the embodiment of businesses’ hacking nightmares in a film that gets its message across with real style.

Media Lions Bronze

Supporting small businesses involves far more than just providing them with loans. The Neighborhoods initiative from Russia’s Sperbank aimed to provide them with relevant insight as well. The campaign used empty windows, billboards and geo-targeted banners to ask people in different neighborhoods about the shops and services they needed – and then shared the aggregate data with potential entrepreneurs. The results generated 9x the usual number of enquiries for loans for starting small businesses. It also led to Sperbank being approached by real estate developers, and asked to collaborate on infrastructure planning.

Sweet Change
Media Lions Bronze

How do you persuade an economy that’s deeply suspicious of digital payments that it’s worth exploring options other than cash? India’s digital wallet service PayTM did so by focusing on one of the most frustrating elements of buying goods using hard currency: a lack of change. Indian shopkeepers make a habit of apologising for their lack of small-denomination coins and handing out sweets instead. Customers are resentful that they are effectively being sold confectionary rather than given the money they are owed.

PayTM stepped into the gap by supplying shopkeepers with free jars of its own branded sweets to give out – each of which came with a code that enabled shoppers to reclaim their change as PayTM currency. Despite running only for one month in select Indian cities, the campaign persuaded 1 million people to try PayTM – with 36% continuing to use the service on an on-going basis.

Not just winning awards – changing the conversation
As a B2B marketer, I’m genuinely inspired by every single one of these campaigns – and that inspiration started long before the Cannes festival got going last week. I first came across the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue in my LinkedIn feed, when it took over the conversation around International Women’s Day. I discovered HP’s ‘Wolf’ campaign when contacts of mine started sharing it on LinkedIn as well. I know that people have had similar experiences with other of these Cannes-winning B2B campaigns. The proof of their value isn’t just that the juries loved them; it’s the way that they helped to shape the agenda for their sector. Their impact was hard to ignore, even when you weren’t aware of the big returns they were generating for the brands behind them. Here’s to more great B2B work like this lighting up industry awards going forward.