Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Cannes insights… NDA meets Nick Blenkarne, head of strategy, Imagination

We want to find real applications for them that integrate into our business and add value to our clients.

We’ve already heard several discussions around what people hope to get from the event. What does Cannes Lions mean to you and how has it evolved?

It’s definitely changed a lot in the 10 years I’ve been coming here. The focus now is about understanding all the new tools and potential use cases. With the new businesses and startups that are here, it feels like much more of an inspiration destination for people to come and look at how they can apply these new technologies to their businesses. That’s certainly why we’re here.

We’re obviously hopeful we can pick up some awards and historically, Cannes Lions has been about a celebration of the work. That’s still really important, but now you’ve got the addition of these new tools and technologies that can help the industry grow and be more effective. And get more creative as well.

It’s often a struggle to get technology and creative to marry up. Do you see the sides coming together?

In some instances, yes. There’s definitely a division. Even walking between the yachts there’s a very different vibe down on the beachfront. You have your classic, more creative and advertising focused talks and destinations. Then there is the emerging creative tech ‘bubble’. The two are coming together more and it’s the role of agencies to apply the tools to the creative work they’re doing. That’s certainly what we try to do. We don’t want to experiment with tools for the sake of it, produce gimmicks. We want to find real applications for them that integrate into our business and add value to our clients.

What technologies are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m meeting with Synthesia, a company with a really exciting AI-powered personalisation tool. Any celebrity in the world can create a personalised message for you in real time. We’re looking at potentially partnering with them across a number of projects. That sort of personalisation is interesting, in an authentic, non-creepy way.

If you can use technology to create more personalised content, that’s valuable and generative AI is really powerful. Our Masters Movement campaign for the World Cup last year was all about using generative design to allow people to express themselves through their own, personalised artworks.

There’s a collective sigh of relief that we’re not going to go through the Metaverse again, like last year. Something that is too vague to be meaningful to people. It’s the tangibility of some of these AI tools that makes them much more useful to talk about.

And Imagination is changing to reflect the merging of creative and technology?

We’re coming up to our 50th anniversary and our founder, Gary Withers, was one of the first of the visionaries, coming from the theatre, to really apply those principles and processes to brand experiences. Ford was one of our founding clients and we used those principles on its car launches and we still work with them today.

That is still a lot of the work we do but we are augmenting it with a digital layer to personalise and supercharge those experiences. We have a really big creative technology team that is involved in nearly every project we do in some capacity. That’s Imagination’s sweet spot. We’re at our best when we combine tools and augment them with real world experience to make something that works harmoniously together.

NDA is partnering with Crowe Advisory and based on their yacht to bring you all the updates from Cannes Lions 2023