Lessons from Cannes Lions on the Future of eCommerce

Orange swirl

You must have seen that joke floating around social media. ‘Who led your company’s digital transformation? Was it A. The CEO B. The CDO/ CTO or C. Covid-19? Correct answer: C.”

It makes us smile because it’s true. Nowhere else has unprecedented and unforeseen growth occurred as in the e-commerce sector which has boomed amid the global crisis. According to UNCTAD,  ecommerce’s share of global retail trade rose from 14% in 2019 to 17% in 2020 and the trend is continuing. 

With the backdrop of this huge growth I felt fortunate to be a Jury member of the Creative eCommerce category at Cannes Lions 2021. Being part of the Cannes Lions jury is a massive honour no matter the year or the category (I judged for the first time in 2010 in  the PR category, and it was a transformative experience). However, being selected for the jury of the Creative eCommerce at this particular edition, when one could see the best work developed all over the world across two years, right in the middle of this global turning point, that was downright fantastic. 

In the way we selected the winners, my fellow jury members and I were looking for inspiring work that represents a reference point, a milestone for the industry, proving the impact of eCommerce for the overall business (through commercial success), as well as the role of eCommerce for brand growth through the engagement it can generate when it has creativity at its core.

Ecommerce as a driver of brand growth 

The biggest theme of the entries was obviously the pandemic – probably over 75% of the work had a link with Covid-19. The pandemic lockdowns with the challenge of no physical presence for businesses accelerated digital transformation and triggered a real e-commerce surge; it was so interesting to see how businesses pivoted in this unprecedented time using the power of creativity and eCommerce. Even more interesting – and refreshing if I may say – was to notice that many brands didn’t just take the ‘self-serving’ approach and didn’t use the opportunity only for their own advantage but have pivoted in a way that helped “everyday people” - the individuals and small businesses across the world that needed support more than ever. ECommerce was the perfect platform for solidarity – and brands with social purpose proved they do walk the talk and scaled up their “do good” actions.  

Ethics played a big role in our judging discussions – we were paying attention to what happened after the transaction, balancing immediate commercial results and long-term impact on the community, the society, the environment, and the planet. Selling more isn’t necessarily a good thing if one takes a more holistic approach. And our jury clearly didn’t want to encourage commercial success at any cost. As the global pandemic approaches its end, we don’t just want to return to ‘normal’, but to a ‘better normal’. 

The top winning campaigns such as Raising Profiles/ The Big Issue / FCB Inferno – (Grand Prix winner), and Roadside Market/ Mastercard/ McCann Romania - (Gold winner) are perfect examples of all these things. They represent market disruptions: companies pivoting with the help of eCommerce to turn the crisis into opportunities, transforming the traditional business practices while also having a positive impact in the community, experimenting with social platforms less known for commerce like LinkedIn and Waze. It was great to see how eCommerce can play such an important role as an enabler for fast pivoting, and an equaliser for businesses and individuals by democratising commerce. 

Key takeaways for brands

How brands can capitalise on the ecommerce revolution

  • Brands that see the commerce channels as a space for growth through emotional-driven experiences will win in the future. 
  • Creating work that doesn’t focus on a channel over the others but rather flows seamlessly between the online and the offline across the customer journey is how agencies can help those clients.  
  • The future belongs to a type of creativity that reflects a permanent shift in how we live, buy, and connect, putting the human at the centre of unified commerce.
  • Look through the winners’ list and you’ll see no gimmicks. This edition, maybe more than ever, it took more than a clever little online promotion to win a Lion in Creative eCommerce. The award worthy work was the one that created both commercial and brand value, and long-term change and impact way beyond transaction. 

- Gabriela Lungu is Global Creative Director at VMLY&R COMMERCE UK