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This week, the world’s advertising, communications and marketing cognoscenti once again descended on the French Riviera, for a five-day international festival of creativity and an awards show – the Cannes Lions. After a three-year pandemic pause, the event is back live and in-person.

For 2022, there has been one small but significant change for those of us focused on retail-related awards at Cannes: the evolution of the Creative eCommerce Lions to the brand-new Creative Commerce Lions. What difference does it make to drop the ‘e’? Well, it’s recognition that ‘Commerce’ today is not just about digital disruption – it can be physical, digital or mobile and can pop up at any point along the path to purchase. Commerce solutions can be gamified, socialized, live streamed, or experienced with all the senses across every channel in any format. The creative and commercial opportunities are limitless.

Once the poor cousin of the marketing world, commerce is now smack bang at the center of brand and customer experience, fully integrated into the best marketing plans. And why not? Commerce is ultimately about sales, and there is growing awareness that, when executed correctly, it can also contribute to brand value. As Beth Ann Kaminkow, Global VMLY&R Commerce CEO and Chair of the Cannes Lions Creative Commerce Jury, told me, “In the finest work, creativity (often enabled by technology) turbocharges commerce, lifting a simple activation to an emotionally charged moment that drives both brand and demand”.

Which brings us to chicken thighs.

The Grand Prix winner in the Creative Commerce category at Cannes this week was US fast-food chain, Wingstop with an inventive commerce-based solution to a vexing business problem – “ThighStop”.

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 the word “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.

As Kaminkow noted, “ThighStop” was not a “promotional afterthought” but truly “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.

The Creative Commerce Lions recognized outstanding creativity and commercial success in everything from merchandising to payment solutions. And far from being dry and dull, a Gold Lion winning case study for Corona beer proved that payment solutions can ignite passion!


In Latin American stadiums, pickpocketing is an issue, preventing football fans from taking wallets and phones in to the game, which means an obvious sales problem for a beer brand. So, Corona turned the fan’s most valuable possession (their team jersey) into a digital wallet, via a NFT chip. When a thirsty spectator spotted a beer vendor with the “Jersey Pay” logo, they just had to tap the badge of their jersey to pay and enjoy. Jersey Pay became a whole new business model not just for the brand but for in-stadium commerce in general.

A growing focus on sustainability was also a feature of the new Creative Commerce Lions, as evidenced by Unilever winning Gold for a concept called “Smart Fill”. 85% of plastics end up in landfill and Unilever wanted to take more responsibility for its business’ impact on the environment in India. 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. It’s not only a clever solution, but it’s also working. 150 litres are Smart Filled every hour in India, with a 57.2kg plastic reduction per day.

The blurring of boundaries between physical and digital retail showed up strongly in the Creative Commerce Lions, with Volvo Belgium scoring Gold for an idea called “Street Configurator”. Volvo 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 street 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 on their smartphone. And you could enquire or buy then and there. Converting the street into a showroom generated a 175% higher conversion rate, with more cars sold in one month than ever before in the history of Volvo Belgium. That’s the rubber really hitting the road in Creative Commerce.

This year’s awards marked a shift in how commerce is regarded at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. “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”, Kaminkow said. “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!”

That’s great for business, whether your business is moving chicken like Wingstop, or moving metal like Volvo.


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