Call it category creep. Cannes this year unveils the Innovation Lions, the 10th category the festival has rolled out in the past eight years, compared to just five in the 13 years before that.
No one would deny it is important to showcase new types of work. Certainly, a sliced-and-diced festival provides more chances for agencies to win—more categories also mean more submissions, which bolsters the bottom line. This year, Cannes reported a record 35,765 entries, up 4 percent from 2012.
“Ultimately it’s about money,” said Adam Kerj, CCO of 360i. “They’ve got to find new revenue streams by creating new categories, and sometimes nobody really understands the difference.”
Case in point: Cannes already has an honor for groundbreaking work, the Titanium, which debuted in 2003. So how is this Innovation prize defined?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Droga5 founder David Droga, Innovation jury chairman and past chairman of the Titanium and Integrated Lions. “We’re going to be defining it hourly and daily when we’re there, judging the work.”
Droga said the proliferation of categories reflects the more complex marketing world, with myriad channels and industries built around them.
Juror Simon Bond, global CMO of BBDO, said the new category is “about celebrating the other and especially technology companies and the innovators that are involved in the development of these great ideas.”
Last month, Droga and his nine fellow jurors sifted through the 270 Innovation submissions. Last week, Cannes announced its short list of 25 finalists, including ideas that are pure tech—among them, Ingress, an augmented-reality smartphone game that uses Google Maps to turn the real world into the setting for a virtual mass-multiplayer competition. It was developed at Niantic Labs, an in-house startup at Google.
The new category, sponsored by Intel, seems designed, in fact, to open up Cannes to a whole new set of players (and pocketbooks): the tech sector. In an unprecedented break with the Cannes practice of jurors deliberating behind closed doors, Innovation finalists will be able to pitch and defend their ideas to jurors in person, à la Shark Tank.
But most of the shortlisters came from agencies. Leo Burnett Sydney, for example, secured a spot for Small World Machines, a pair of interconnected vending machines that let consumers in India and Pakistan interact via livestream.
AKQA, meanwhile, made the cut with Nike+ Kinect Training, which combines the brand’s digitized personal fitness program with Microsoft’s motion-tracking Xbox device.
That entry is reminiscent of Nike+ FuelBand, which earned R/GA a Titanium Grand Prix last year. But Cannes organizers emphasize the Innovation was not meant for work like FuelBand. There is disagreement, though. Innovation juror Mike Parker, global chief digital officer at McCann WorldGroup, said he would have considered FuelBand for an Innovation prize.
It may take a little time for this to shake out. “It has to define itself over a couple of years because it’s such a huge and prestigious category,” said 360i’s Kerj. “It’s where everybody wants to be today.”