Our Pick of Cultural Winners at Cannes Lions 2019

Industry Insights

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is like the Oscars of Ad Land, and every year it comes around we love seeing what campaigns have scooped the top awards. This year, we’re even more excited, as there seems to be a shift towards recognition of creative work that rings true with our own ethos – that culture connects.

When 85% of consumers believe it’s important for brands to understand them at a deeper level, it’s no longer enough today for ads to just sell products. And we’ve noticed a wave of campaigns that strive for a meaningful connection to audiences through culture. Whether connecting emotionally with a deep-rooted message, making a divisive political stand, disrupting the status quo, or addressing a cultural shift; brands are finally impacting audiences in a way that is relevant to their cultural experiences. And they’re getting the praise they deserve within the industry. Here are our picks from the 2019 Cannes Lions winners that we feel really won with their cultural authority and made a cultural connection with their work.

BODYFORM ‘Viva la Vulva’ – Changing Perceptions

Glass: The Lion for Change – Gold Winner

After destigmatising menstrual blood in advertising last year with their ‘blood normal’ campaign, Bodyform won again with its colourful celebration of the vulva. Its three-minute ad saw a chorus of singing and dancing vulva puppets and animations lip syncing to ‘Take Yo Praise’ by Camille Yarbrough. Ending with women commenting on their relationship with the vulva. There can be no doubt the ad won cultural power; with £0 media support, it reached 5m organic views in under two weeks and it’s one of the most awarded UK campaigns of 2019.

The Cultural Connection: Yes it was clever, catchy and fun to watch. But it also sparked a much-needed conversation about the myths, insecurities and stereotypes around female genitals that have been engrained within our culture for a long time. It’s an example of how advertising has the potential to challenge and change cultural perceptions.



NIKE ‘Dream Crazy’ – Taking a Crazy Risk

Entertainment for Sport – Grand Prix Winner

Sport holds immense cultural significance and connection for audiences. So the new Entertainment for Sport category at Cannes seems a long time missing. Building on success of Nike’s ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ campaign (a huge hit in our London office), this year judges lauded the first top spot in this category to their ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign – one that saw the brand taking their own crazy risk by backing controversial rights campaigner and NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the star.

The Cultural Connection: Advertising rarely takes risks for fear of alienating or losing audiences, but by making a stand with Kaepernick, Nike solidified their cultural authority in sport as a brand that champions diversity and daring. It’s a message that greater creative risks can mean greater rewards.



Black & Abroad ‘Go Back to Africa’  – Negating the Negative

Creative Data, Social Data & Insight – Grand Prix Winner

For both good and bad, Social Media has opened up a two-way conversation between consumers and brands like never before. When Black & Abroad, a travel & lifestyle company dedicated to redefining experiences for the modern Black traveller, saw a negative cultural experience in the hate-fuelled language they tracked on Twitter, they didn’t ignore it. They reclaimed it, responding with an ad showcasing the beauty and diversity of Africa and using ‘Go Back To Africa’ as a call to action to encourage travel to the region.

The Cultural Connection: Words and language can hold incredible cultural power. By addressing and responding to their social audience rather than ignoring it, the brand turned a disparaging narrative into a positive cultural connection.



The New York Times ‘The Truth Is Worth It’ – Influencing Culture

Film Craft – Grand Prix Winner

The New York Times already holds cultural authority in the news world, but the gritty storytelling in this artistically shot campaign reaffirmed this position. Each film in the series immerses you into true journeys of New York Times journalists and the lengths they go to create a headline news feature. Artfully shot and produced; it’s no wonder it won Grand Prix for its Craft and scored four Gold Lions in sound design, production design, art direction and script.

The Cultural Connection: In our age of cultural distrust because of fake news, this campaign shone as a powerful reminder of the importance of true journalism, sending a hard message to any audiences who may have lost sight of the paper’s authenticity.



Nike ‘Air Max Graffiti Stores’ Creative Tech

Media – Grand Prix Winner

Nike commissioned graffiti artists to turn their artworks across the city of São Paulo into virtual stores where audiences could use geolocation to unlock pre-sale pairs of the new Air Max range. The sneaker head community in Brazil buzzed, and the campaign was so successful it increased website visits by 22%, boosted social media reach to 80 million users and generating numerous sales. But it also coincided with the sentencing of the city’s Governor who, after removing iconic street art murals, was charged with erasing cultural heritage.

The Cultural Connection: The masterful use of digital tech goes without saying, but it was embracing Sao Paulo’s cultural appreciation for street art and their sneakerhead community that led to the brand having such an impact.



New York Public Library ‘Insta Novels’ Reconnecting

Social Engagement – Gold Winner

In 2016, only 20% U.S. teens reported reading a book, magazine or newspaper daily, the lowest figure ever recorded, versus 80% consuming information online. Some claim social media is the death of literature, dumbing down intelligence in the new generations. The New York Library hit back against this trend to create the world’s first digital library specifically for Instagram, uploading full books of classic literature directly into Instagram Stories with eye-catching, bold designs. It sounds crazy to apply such long-form content onto a short-form platform, but the novels reached 300,000 plus reads with an 80% increase in @NYPL’s Instagram following.

The Cultural Connection: Identifying a damaging cultural trend, the New York Public Library used their cultural authority to take action, but what we love is that they did so with a digital-first approach that spoke to their teenage audiences, creating an entirely new e-reading experience.


Words by Nicole Harley – Producer at Studio Black Tomato