Why Cannes Lions doubled down on the growth agenda in 2023

As businesses face economic uncertainty, strengthening the connection between marketing and the bottom line becomes ever more essential

Cannes Lions

At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, senior marketers converged to discuss the role of marketing in business growth. And as budgets tighten against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, the need to strengthen the connection between marketing and the bottom line increase – by adopting methods the entire C-suite can get behind – has never been more essential.

Brand marketers and C-suite executives come to Cannes Lions to build capabilities in creativity and marketing effectiveness, and dig into the insights at the heart of building brands and businesses. This year’s festival topics, from the emergence of AI to community building, are all explored in depth in the Official Cannes Lions Wrap-Up report.

In today’s climate, businesses are navigating their way through multiple crises at once. And over the past few years, this uncertainty has been normalised. But at this year’s festival, delegates also expressed mounting anxiety about where growth will come from. According to data shared by PwC at the festival, nearly three-quarters of CMOs admitted they had failed to deliver against profitable growth objectives. And the outlook from CEOs was just as startling: only 40% think that their businesses will be economically viable in the next 10 years.

For businesses to survive the turbulent times ahead, agility and innovation are essential. And for innovation to thrive, creative thinking is required. Without it, companies are far less able to pivot with changing times. But Deloitte has recently reported a creativity gap among C-Suite executives. So how can brands harness creative problem-solving to drive businesses forward?

Marketers cannot operate in a silo

Brands that have invested in creativity – from Apple and Nike to John Lewis – have seen strong returns and built brand strength in the process. Of course, for this to happen, CMOs must be able to bring the entire C-suite on the journey. 

In today’s climate, businesses are navigating their way through multiple crises at once

But in the recent LIONS State of Creativity study, only 12% of brand marketers said they felt extremely confident in convincing the CFO to invest in creativity and brand-building. It is, therefore, no surprise that many marketers are overly focused on providing short-term results to evidence the value of marketing.

Internal barriers can inhibit progress. This means senior marketers need to work with, not against, their CFO. This was debated on the Cannes Lions stage this year. In the session ‘Happy tensions: the power of CMO and CFO partnerships’, Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer Raja Rajamannar and CFO Sachin Mehra explained how communication, clarity and collaboration helped to reset their relationship.

“If we can work jointly as a team to establish trust, we can break through all of these issues. Invest in doing that with your finance team and it will pay in spades,” Mehra explained.

AI on the rise

Artificial intelligence was also widely discussed at the festival in 2023, leaving little doubt that the C-suite will need to engage AI and integrate its use because it stands to transform the way brands and businesses operate. Plus, AI is becoming intertwined with people’s daily lives, it’s no longer confined to the tech community.

While the complexity of the technology can feel confounding, AI can also facilitate human connections and drive creativity. It can make challenging ideas realistic, give low-budget marketing work the option to scale, and allow brands to react to topical issues with speed. More Cannes Lions Awards entries than ever used AI, with 7.3% of 2023’s entries mentioning AI in their synopses, compared with 3.7% last year.

But Cannes Lions’ speakers were aligned on their predictions: despite the numerous advantages offered by AI, human insights will continue to power impactful creativity. Their advice was to use AI like any other tech or tool and remember that it doesn’t have the capacity to replace human thinking or ideas. 

Across the festival content, Cannes Lions focuses on actionable insights and real-life examples from brands that have built businesses through nurturing creativity and have experienced success as a result. It’s designed to help marketers make a clear case to their C-suite colleagues about why creativity is such an effective driver of growth and how to bring their entire business along for the ride.

Raconteur is a media partner of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity