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What I really really want

Sir John Hegarty
Founder, Creative


John Hegarty talks at Cannes Lions about using the medium of cinema to get a strong message across

This year’s SAWA seminar – The Power of Cinema to Drive Cultural Change – saw advertising luminary John Hegarty take the stage alongside Hollywood producers Lawrence Bender (An Inconvenient Truth) and Steve Golin (Spotlight), and Unicef’s Chief of Public Advocacy, Claudia Gonzales. SAWA, the global cinema advertising association, hosted the world preview of Project Everyone’s latest cinema campaign, which aims to encourage mass public support for the rights of girls and women under the Global Goals UN initiative. #WhatIReallyReallyWant is an ad remake of the Spice Girls’ Wannabe music video featuring actors, singers and dancers from around the world.

Project Everyone was conceived by film-maker Richard Curtis and its first campaign, the humorous #WeHaveAPlan ad, created by BBH and Aardman Animations. Launched by the Global Goals and SAWA in 2015, the ad had a huge impact due to being played in cinemas worldwide, with Nielsen reporting that one in three people who saw it could recall it unprompted. “This is absolutely amazing, when you think of the ad-blocked world we now live in”, says Hegarty. “Hopefully that has to do with the creativity, but it also has to do with cinema and what cinema can do.”

The panel debated the potential of cinema, as the ultimate entertainment medium, to change and influence the cultural climate. Cinema enables Project Everyone to reach the masses, drive long-term awareness of its goals, and connect with an audience – especially young people – likely to act on the campaign message to end poverty, fight inequality and fix climate change by 2030.

Being able to get a message across in three seconds is becoming a focus for brands and agencies

The strong relationship SAWA have built with Project Everyone and the United Nations has been a game changer for the cinema medium. Cheryl Wannell, General Manager of SAWA, commented that, “The power of cinema has long been apparent, from the time of silent film right through the implementation of 3D.

Technology is one thing, but cinema’s storytelling capability and power to drive change is when it’s at its most powerful”. Hegarty supports this assertion: “I constantly say the most powerful place to tell a story is in the cinema – it was conceived as as storytelling medium and we’re telling a story”.

While not every campaign can change the world, Hegarty says brands should still try to be more profound with their communications, whether it’s in cinema or Snapchat. As attention spans shorten, and disposable marketing channels gain momentum and a greater share of consumers’ attention, being able to get a message across in three seconds is becoming a focus for brands and agencies – although unifying a message across all channels is, of course, still the most important thing. “I don’t think everything can be deeply profound and moving, there’s a place for fun, incidental humorous conversation… but having a big idea that unifies your communication is fundamentally important.”

The seminar at Cannes Lions highlighted the unique power of cinema to instill change within society. SAWA and its members have committed to a global campaign between July and September to ensure #WhatIReallyReallyWant reaches cinema’s huge audiences. The advertisement will call on people to share the ad across social media, with campaign results being presented to world leaders at the UN General Assembly in September 2016.

“We forget how powerful cinema is as a means of capturing the zeitgeist – marketers that is”, says Hegarty. “The public understand it, but we sometimes forget it in a world of multi-messages. Cinema is a great place to tell a story and get undivided attention.” Cinema undoubtedly remains the most powerful visual medium on the planet, driving cultural change and helping make the world a more entertaining and better place in the process.