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Diego Machado Is Celebrating “the Best of the Future” this Cannes Lions

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
AKQA’s global CCO and jury president of the Cannes Lions Innovation category speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about innovation as a “necessity for survival”
“I like to think that while all the Cannes Lions categories celebrate the best of the past year, the Innovation Lions celebrate the best of the future.”

Diego Machado is reflecting on the job in front of him as Cannes Lions 2024’s Innovation jury president. Diego, who in his day job is global chief creative officer of AKQA, believes the word ‘innovation’ has been somewhat overused in recent years. This is in part due to the appeal of the word itself, but also because of its necessity - for better and worse, the world is changing and innovation is needed to help steer its course. To put it in Diego’s words, “Somehow, the industry reflects the world we're living in, where innovation is not a luxury. It's not something we hope we can do; it's a necessity for survival.”

Ahead of Cannes Lions, which kicks off this coming Monday 17th June, LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Diego about innovation, the use of comedy within the category, and why this could be the last ever Cannes Lions with entries that don’t involve AI.

LBB> Innovation is such a huge word with wide meaning. How will you and your jury look to define it?

Diego> The Innovation category is celebrating its 11th anniversary this year. While the word ‘innovation’ is powerful and wide-ranging, it has been overused over the years. This might be because it is appealing both creatively and in business, because we live in a time of rapid technological advancement, or simply because we urgently need it.

Our society is experiencing numerous significant and rapid changes. There are negative developments such as the acceleration of climate change, deforestation, economic inequality, wars, cybersecurity threats, the rise of authoritarianism, and polarisation. However, there are also positive changes, including countless scientific discoveries, access to new technologies, democratised information, renewable energy, vaccine development, sustainable agriculture, and space exploration.

The role of the jury is to understand the current and future landscape while preserving the essence of this category. I like to think that while all the Cannes Lions categories celebrate the best of the past year, the Innovation Lions celebrate the best of the future. This starts with excellence in the creative idea (after all, this is a celebration of creativity, not a tech festival) and extends into the future. It involves an idea executed to perfection that drives change for years to come.

How much does it create change? It impacts people's lives, the business itself, our society, and our world. If it leaves a significant legacy, it is likely a winner.

LBB> An issue in advertising is sometimes the use of technology for technology's sake, versus the use of it to solve a problem in the best way. How do you anticipate identifying this in the entries?

Diego> I don't think it's an advertising issue. It's a human temptation to take shortcuts and replicate the hottest tech solution of the week. This becomes evident when you're watching the first longlist; repeated ideas and executions start overlapping each other, naturally creating space for those that shine by combining an innovative idea with innovative craft.

It's always great to remind ourselves of the name of the festival we're judging: the International Festival of Creativity. Creativity stands for creation, imagination, being different, unique, and original. The innovation aspect should follow suit. If creativity is thinking about the new, innovation is actually doing the new.

LBB> What are the current big debates within Innovation - or more generally across the industry - that you expect to see coming through in the judging?

Diego> Somehow, the industry reflects the world we're living in, where innovation is not a luxury. It's not something we hope we can do; it's a necessity for survival. In order to get through - as society - brands must adapt and change. There's a powerful push for change from both inside and outside, and we can see it spreading through some industries, with many already embracing it, including ours.

A common area is access to new technologies. From agriculture to space exploration, every business is integrating new tools into its ecosystem, but that's not enough. A few years ago, adopting a new tool might have been a game changer and a potential Cannes winner. Today, keeping up with every digital or analogue development is challenging. It may seem harder than ever to stand out or be recognised in a sea of new advancements, but the opposite is true. There has never been a more exciting time to be creative, to test things, and to prototype impossible ideas. This is reflected in the number of entries; if I'm not mistaken, this is the biggest year for this category, showing that innovation is a direction every brand is pursuing.

LBB> How do you expect AI to impact your category?

Diego> This is the first year that Cannes has opened an AI field for every entry, allowing participants to detail if and how AI was used in their ideas. In my opinion, this is the last year we'll see an idea that doesn't incorporate some form of AI in its process. AI is undoubtedly the hottest topic, but unlike other technologies in the past, it isn't repetitive. AI can be used in myriad ways, enhancing the category overall.

If creativity is thinking up new things and innovation is executing these ideas, we can say that we're closing the gap of possibilities. Concepts that once seemed like science fiction are now being implemented and becoming part of our past. AI is making the impossible possible, and the category is becoming more exciting as a result.

LBB> Looking at last year's Grand Prix winner, MouthPad, how has this affected and influenced the category and is there anything about this winner that you'll be looking for in entries this year?

Diego> I love the idea; it's a great example of how we can solve problems today that we couldn't in the past. The combination of different technologies is making it possible to bring any idea to life. That said, I don't think it affects the category this year; it's an amazing inspiration.

LBB> Comedy is the big new 'culture and context' sub category this year - how do you think comedy could be better leveraged, and specifically in the category you're judging?

Diego> I couldn't be happier with comedy becoming the ‘big new culture and context’. It makes me smile. Especially for categories like Innovation, Glass, and Titanium, which tend to have more serious, impressive, and grand entries. I feel that the comedy trend can benefit these categories by bringing more diversity to the types of entries. It makes them less predictable and even more multidimensional.

LBB> How do you think clients can enable their creative agencies to unleash better comedy campaigns?

Diego> I don't like to think of clients as enabling agencies. It sounds like agencies are the kids and clients are the parents who allow or disallow them to go to the playground. I prefer to see it as a conversation, where it doesn't matter who said a particular word first or who allowed the other to say a certain phrase. It's an organic combination of thoughts leading to a bigger and clearer point of view.

It's not about changing the client; it's about changing our process as agencies, clients, production, media - everything. Making it more human, less like marketing professors lecturing. By using words that anyone can understand on a brief… actually, don’t call it brief. Make it a conversation, ideally over food. At the end of the day, it's less about comedy campaigns and more about human campaigns - things that will truly resonate with consumers, not a showoff to the industry or inflating our own egos.

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