Masterpieces: The Best of the Best Creative Commerce at Cannes

Woman with hat looking at abstract artwork

I woke up this morning feeling like I’ve just spent the past week touring the most inspiring museum in the world, housing my favorite genre of art. It’s as if I had spent days (and nights) with the collections; viewing, and then analyzing what worked, what didn’t, and what made an absolute masterpiece. 

Of course, I am talking about the 2022 Cannes International Festival of Creativity and the exhausting, but exhilarating experience of chairing the jury for the inaugural Creative Commerce Lions. 

I am still fired up by the debates and long hours in the jury room (and one or two glasses of Hampton Water rose afterwards), but I truly believe this has been a transformative year for our category. The advent of the Creative Commerce Lions has shaped how we award and celebrate creativity for generations. The work on display elevates efforts that were once deemed to be “just retail and shopper” (necessary but workmanlike), to be seen for what they truly are - commercial works of art. 

The legacy divisions between 'above-the-line' and 'below-the-line’ that consigned some work and agencies to be 'creative' and others to be 'activation' are now a thing of the past. The greatest work has always aspired to be measured ultimately by sales lift (not just brand equity KPIs) so the secret is now out; ideas that begin with commercial outcomes in mind, can be just as creative and brand building!

I sought to capture this milestone experience via my three key reflections, five favorite pieces, the one big winner (and why). Plus, some parting advice to those who aspire to hold a Lion in 2023.

Three Key Reflections

My first reaction is I was thrilled to see that commerce is bang on-trend. With close to 400 commerce-related entries, and a mix of channels used, it was quite an impressive showing for this evolutionary first year.  Beyond the interest in the category,  what stuck with me was the level of creativity, aligned to business impact that the shortlisted entries demonstrated. 

Our jury unanimously agreed that it was a year where the work proved that changing the world is not just about how something is perceived, but how people act on those perceptions.

Creative Commerce can take many shapes and forms, and here are three that stood out for our jury in the shortlists:

  1. Cultural Commerce. Some of the best work was culturally relevant to the Gen Z audience; the “Future Shoppers”, becoming part of their lives and their lifestyles. IKEA “Trapped in the 90’s” was one great exampleTo celebrate its 25th anniversary in Spain, IKEA produced its own reality show titled “Trapped in the 90’s”, featuring six people (all born after 1996) having to cope in a home designed before IKEA was on the scene. Throughout the eight episodes, contestants are surprised and delighted with IKEA products to help them “survive”. Their reactions were priceless, and the shopper response amazing.
  2. Sustainable Commerce. In contemporary Creative Commerce, “sustainability” is a two-edged sword – it must be good for people and the planet. “Black Business Beats“ by Mercado Livre (Latin America’s biggest e-commerce marketplace) set out to flip the script on hip hop songs and give back during Black History Month. Instead of lyrics referencing traditional “white” luxury brands, Mercado Livre commissioned a song by Brazilian rap stars that talked to brands owned by black entrepreneurs. There was a 60% average increase in sales for each black business mentioned.
  3. Conversion Commerce. Ultimately, Creative Commerce needs to make it easy for shoppers to buy and payment painless. The Dollar Catalogue by IKEA is a brilliant merchandising idea that countered the Taiwanese shopper’s perception that the brand is expensive, and made it super simple to shop. Instead of categorizing by product type, IKEA created a digital catalogue with products featuring even dollar price points, from $1 to $100. To go one step further, IKEA took the concept to the streets, with billboards, and even stairs with consecutive dollar price points. In less than two weeks, the Dollar Catalogue had over 10 million page views, with an e-comm conversion rate of 264%!

Five Favorite Pieces

The volume and standard of work was so high that it was difficult to get it down to just five favorites. But here they are. (And forgive me for including a couple from our network, but I am a proud parent, and the cases rated equally high in the jury room!)

  1. Shokunin Shoyu “Favorite Food Soy Sauce”. Who knew, but originally there were five types of soy sauce? Just like there is a pairing between wine and food, there is a perfect match between soy sauce and food. Shokunin Shoyu developed a whole new brand called “Favorite Food Soy Sauce” with sleeve-type packaging and illustrations of the appropriate food types – 24 in total. Favorite Food Soy Sauce contributed to a 308% increase in sales; proof that Creative Commerce can extend to product innovation and education.
  2. AB InBev Corona “Jersey Pay”. Full disclosure: this is from VMLY&R Commerce in Mexico, but it’s the best example I saw of true payment innovation. In Latin American stadiums, pickpocketing is an issue, preventing fans from taking wallets and phones in to the game, which means an obvious sales problem for Corona. By turning the fan’s most valuable possession (their team jersey) into a digital payment platform (via a NFT chip), Jersey Pay became a whole new business model not just for the brand but for in-stadium commerce in general.
  3. Volvo “Street Configurator”. Volvo Belgium is aiming to move all showroom sales online by 2035 – it’s better for the environment (less miles travelled) and the brand (less physical comparison shopping). So they turned every Volvo in the streets into an opportunity to sell. Using advanced AI, if a customer took a photo of a Volvo they loved, an exact configuration of the car would pop up. And you could enquire or buy then and there. Making the street a showroom generated a 175% higher conversion rate, with more cars sold in one month than in the history of Volvo Belgium. That’s the rubber really hitting the road in Creative Commerce. 
  4. Unilever “Smart Fill”. This one is from our team in India, and I think just might revolutionize the re-use of packaging around the world. 85% of plastics end up in landfill and Unilever wanted to take responsibility for its business’ impact on the environment. So, they introduced “Smart Fill” stations in store, which let shoppers fill any empty container (yes, competitors’ products too) as packaging for Unilever branded detergents. And it’s working! 150 litres are Smart Filled every hour, with a 57.2kg plastic reduction per day.
  5. AB InBev Corona “Reverse Bottle”. At the heart of Creative Commerce is, of course, creativity. And that depends on big ideas, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the budgets need to be big. One of the many examples of smart thinking on a shoestring that we saw was the Reverse Bottle Initiative from AB Inbev’s Corona in Argentina. Corona promoted its “100% natural” promise in a (literally) transparent fashion, by simply reversing the presentation of the product on the shelf and online, so that the view was of the iconic bottle shape and the list of ingredients on the back. This didn’t make the shortlist, but I believe great low-cost ideas should be spotlighted, and it cracked my top 5. 

Our Big Grand Prix winner: Wingstop “Thighstop”

This campaign was no “commerce afterthought”, but a carefully considered and rapidly rolled-out solution to a critical business problem, which covered every touchpoint, and put commerce firmly at the center of brand and customer experience. 

In 2021, American restaurants were facing a desperate shortage in chicken wings – not so great, when your brand is called “Wingstop”! Fortunately, there was a quick (but risky) solve: switch to chicken thighs instead.

In a matter of weeks, Wingstop overhauled their brand from end-to-end, replacing “Wing” with “Thighs” on packaging, restaurants and online stores, and turning what could have been a niche product launch into a national phenomenon. Cultural icon and Wingstop franchisee Rick Ross drove the buzz even further. 

I loved this case, because it is both business and behavior changing. Results were impressive: “ThighStop” attracted battalions of new “flavor fans”, increased sales by 10% year-over-year, and earned 6.5 billion earned media impressions.  Thighs have now been added to the menu.

As marketers, it serves as a good reminder that as the world gets weightier, it's okay for brands to go lighter with their messaging and campaigns. We loved how this work made us laugh, how the case film both entertained and sold the work, and clearly customer appreciated this too!

Parting Advice

I began this article by comparing judging the Creative Commerce Lions to contemplating collections in an amazing museum. But you don’t have to be a judge to get access to these works of art. Just subscribe to The Work, and use the world’s best as a benchmark for your own commerce creations over the next year. 

My one word of advice – don’t emulate, innovate. Leap over what you see to reimagine commerce as Creative Commerce. This isn't just about winning awards; it’s about meeting the consumer where they are! They're not stuck in some theoretical marketing funnel; they're getting inspired by brands and wanting to buy them at the same time.

Creative Commerce is the next great canvas for creativity, and I hope to see your masterpieces at Cannes, and beyond, next year. And thank you Cannes Lions, Philip Thomas, Simon Cook, and Susie Walker for recognizing the creative potential in this space!

Beth Ann Kaminkow is Global CEO at VMLY&R COMMERCE