Inside the Cannes Lions jury room – A career-defining creative sprint

Shivani Maharaj
By Shivani Maharaj | 26 June 2023
Shivani Maharaj.

After three long days in a Cannes jury room that felt like a sprint in creative training, Wavemaker’s Shivani Maharaj unpacks the debates, decisions and lessons.

To say being a juror at Cannes International Festival has been the highlight of my career is an understatement! I met, agreed with, debated, argued and made up with (like every family does) and enjoyed the company of nine intelligent and fabulous humans from all around the world and each taught me something new, changed my views and inspired me to be better. True to the heart of Wavemaker – it was an exercise in positive provocation!

To start with, the diversity of the Social & Influencer category jury was impressive. A female Jury president from Brazil, an Asian Canadian, the most awarded creative from India, an Australian born in the tiny island of Fiji (that’s me), an African-American with the world’s first ‘Chief Creator Officer’ title, a Frenchman about to be a dad for the first time, a passionate Spaniard and an English African representing EMEA. 

Each brought with them the cultural nuances of their respective countries, differing experience (some were seasoned jurors while others, like me, were there for the first time), platform expertise (we had TikTok and YouTube in the room), creative storytelling craft, and an art of understanding results and effectiveness.

Here’s how it went down.

Day 1: Get to know each other and finalise the shortlist

Starting the day with 211 entries, we weren’t just looking for great work – it had to be social first and social at the heart. 

For anyone entering this category in the future, it’s important to remember this is NOT the Effies. Creativity needs to be at the core of the work. Is it innovative for social media? Is there a strong sense of community? Is it just organic? Is there UGC, co-creation and participation?

And please re-read the criteria! Put strong insights and strategy front and centre, address cultural nuances we need to take into account, and consider whether we’re rewarding stereotypes in advertising. 

As one of the experienced jurors reminded us, we can only judge what we know and what’s in front of us. But hey, did we do some fact checking across Google and social platforms to ensure we weren’t being lied to? Affirmative. 

13.5 hours locked in a room with no windows, voting yes/no, and ending the day with a shortlist of 149 representing about 10% of the total number of entries. 

The Cannes Lions shortlist announcement goes out to the world.

Day 2: Award Bronze Lions

We kicked off the day with each juror choosing their 10 best pieces of work. That’s right, we don’t have to award every category. We only award the best work! We were given a guide to aim for 47 Bronzes, so that’s about 1 in 3 of our shortlist.

The discussion (and debate) was soon underway: Can the idea live without social? Is it a social-first idea? Is it really a social idea as opposed to a PR idea? Is it more innovation or media? Does it belong in a different category? Is it an interesting use of social? 

The most heated debates were over…

  • ALDI #Unoriginals, getting fans to create the ALDIDAS movement for their sportline
  • Baby2Baby Luxury Diaper stunt partnership with Goop and Gwyneth Paltrow  
  • Dove’s #TurnYourBack campaign against TikTok’s bold glamour filter 
  • Heinz #TheBoatGuy, a campaign about a real person who was lost at sea for 30 days and survived by eating Heinz ketchup 
  • Apple Music’s Superbowl halftime show with Rihanna, 3x social films engaging NFL fans 

Every piece of work needed two thirds majority to go through. We had a few tied pieces of work, which Jury president Samantha Almeida had to make a call on. 

There was so much discussion and debate, the Cannes Lions jury team advised us we could award another two pieces of work, taking it to 49 Bronze. YES!!!!!

Day 3: Award Silver, Gold and Grand Prix Lions

We walked into the judging room knowing it was going to be a tough day. The question on our mind: What statement do we want to make to the world about social media and influencers? 

The idea MUST have social at heart to win today.

We started the morning by choosing our top 6 pieces of work each, listing them in an Excel sheet. We re-watched the videos, agreeing to automatically put through the majority-voted work, and debated the work put forward by only one or two jurors. We awarded 15 Silvers.

In the afternoon, conversation turned to Gold – we were told we could award 8 Golds – with a focus on originality and have we seen this idea before? 

We discussed the complexity of each campaign, the product or brand in the journey, the creative idea, the insight, the strategy. As differences of opinion arose, we reminded ourselves to #trusttheprocess. 

Finally, we each chose one or two pieces of work from the Silvers to create a Gold ‘shortlist’ – jury rooms had never seen so much Excel before – so we could vote. We got there at about 7pm.

My personal top contenders were (noting these were not all chosen for Gold):

  • World Cup Delivery
  • Flipvertising
  • Apple Music Superbowl Halftime Show
  • Cashback for Jersey Back
  • #OptInk
  • Bill It to Bezos

After a short break, we returned to the room to debate the biggest decision of all – the Grand Prix. 

Each juror got to nominate one Gold for consideration, resulting in two pieces of work that we debated for the next few hours. 

One was about respecting the cultural nuances of a generation, while the other was about changing the way a generation behaves. One became part of culture and gained the trust of a generation, while the other engaged them and sent them on a maze hunt. One product costs $3, the other $1,500+.

The Grand Prix went to CHEP and Samsung for Flipvertsing (Yes, I was a VERY proud Aussie in the room), but I have to give a special shout out to Oreo Cheat Cookies because it was very close.

My take outs and themes from the top work

Game-changing gaming
We saw more work in this space than ever before with so many GREAT ideas across in-game experiences, social gaming, working with gaming influencers to new ways to hijack.

Social for good 

We often hear about the negative aspects of social media, but it was amazing to see social being used to drive purpose in the world and rallying communities towards positive change.

Hijacking sport in new ways 

I know we were in a World Cup year, but there was a huge volume of work in this space, mainly from non-sponsors (which makes sense for social media). We saw ideas around sporting superstitions, hijacks, using the country’s cultural nuances or passions in new ways.

Responsible advertising

In the jury room and Cannes in general, there was a lot of discussion around ensuring we are doing what is in the best interest for society. It was great having the social platforms in the room signposting ideas that technically weren’t allowed because it was advertising to children, for example.

I feel like I have just run a sprint in creative training and I can’t wait to see how this experience impacts and inspires my work moving forward. Until next time…

Shivani Maharaj is Chief Content & Partnerships Officer at Wavemaker Australia & New Zealand

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