Innovation or Innovative?


By Adam Lawrenson, ECD, KBS Albion

Cannes is an inspiring week.

It makes you try harder. It shows you how you can to improve. It gives you perspective. Galvanising what you believe in, what you want to achieve, the work you want to make, and the agency you must become.

But for me, at least, it’s the perspective it provides which is most profound.

To demonstrate this, I’m going to mainly pick on the Innovation category as it highlights the crisis we are in as an industry. It’s also closer to who we are as an agency, and therefore helps me harden on my beliefs around our own proposition.

Before I go on, I will not be talking about VR or adblocking, despite their domination of the drunken debate. VR is only interesting to me from a narrow technical point of view. It’s going to get better and cooler and more useful for the predicted applications and that’s about all there is to say. Nor will adblocking get much airtime. That’s because it’s simply not interesting to anyone who doesn’t have a vested interest in perpetuating this system. And I do not. 

This is not a dig at the work in the innovation category at Cannes; I’d give my right arm to have been a part of many of the winning projects. It’s simply a comment on Innovation. The word. The category. The approach. And the things that get rewarded.

In an industry where the influence of the traditional agency is being squeezed, in which the agency model itself is having an existential crisis, the approach seems to compound, rather than counteract this problem.

There are too many ideas that have a tenuous link to the business. There are too many small maker-led ideas that feel like they could be executed by a single creative technologist with an arduino kit. There are too many cause related solutions that are all innovation and no impact. And too many prototypes that feel like they would kill it on kickstarter but perhaps shouldn’t (yet) take home a Cannes Lion.

What is innovation? And what are we awarding?

What’s clear is that the answer is very subjective. For me, innovation is as much about the journey as the destination. It’s more about the context of the idea than the idea in an absolute sense. And it’s more about impact than innovation.

It’s hard a perspective to get your arms round, but I believe that innovation has to have an effect on something - the business or the world. When I look at the winners I’m constantly trying to understand the problem that existed before and how this is the solution that has nudged the world forwards.

It’s tedious having these thoughts because it turns you into one of those people that says any one of the following…

Shouldn’t we award ideas that have been proven to work?

That Braille Watch is incredible. Beautifully designed, well conceived, and doing a genuine service. But it’s still a prototype. It hasn’t been made. It is still a kickstarter idea that seems, on the face of it, to be a really good idea. But so was the swimming pool in New York.

And I’m sorry, but I’ve seen a ton of wearables and the one for Levi just seems deeply impractical. It’s an interesting concept video, but given that we are at the beginning of an incredibly steep AI / Voice Recognition adoption curve I simply question the realities of this solution.

Whereas I find an open source interactive cloth - like the shortlisted Jacquard from Google creative lab - more interesting. I wouldn’t award it anything yet - it’s simply the early days of creating a more universally touch screen world. But it feels like this, rather than the more static version of the technology by Levi, is the thing we should be championing as the way to go. To prove the point you only have to remember how many awards Nike+ picked up in the three-year period between prototye and ultimate.

Shouldn’t we strive for a stronger connection between work and brand?

This is really smart and technical. And you can’t argue the creativity of Rembrandt. But it’s a bit of a tenuous link to the Bank. It’s a pure device to tell people that the bank is cool but for me that’s where the story ends.

Shouldn’t we demand more than a one-off experience?

Yeah, the field trip to mars made my hair stand on end. But it also left me thinking, as a one off idea for a few people, wouldn’t it be better in experiential? Are we saying that Alton Towers or Six Flags can start submitting their rides now?

And the promotion of the Melbourne Film Festival just felt like a thing to advertise another thing. Not particularly innovative, not particularly relevant.

Shouldn’t we have moved on from the maker lab?

Gascale for Mabe just feels like something that came out of agency R&D studios a while back. For sure, it’s a nice and clever demonstration of maker technologies but where does it lead? 

Shouldn’t we be purer about the category?

The Second Scoreboard, raising awareness of domestic violence in Costa Rica, delivered incredible impact. Getting everyone involved and driving home the issue is really impressive. It’s a very good marketing idea. And while it’s an innovative idea, is it actually innovation?

And I loved this logo for INEC. It’s very smart and well executed. It really shows the power of visual identity, demonstrating the potential to change culture through branding. But again, is generative, data driven identity new? Is it innovation?

What really left me scratching my head was the presence of the McWhopper - the stand out PR / Social campaign of the season - in the innovation category. I mean, come on guys...

But in the sea of confusion as to what is and isn’t innovation, there were winners that make me feel like we’re getting somewhere. The Mill Blackbird Car is amazing. As is the Land Cruiser’s Emergency Network. And somehow The Federation for Internet Alerts only managed a shortlist. As did this Platform agnostic wearables software.

True innovation is out there. As an industry, we need to get better at recognising it.