Spending a week at the Cannes Lions Festival is surreal. You are on the French Rivera, in proximity to A-list celebs, C-suite execs and people offering freebies. Within this environment, it can be easy to forget why we’re there: to celebrate the power of creative communication.
While our day jobs require that we focus on market implications, it was freeing to spend a week holding creative to different standards. As Marc Pritchard, CMO of P&G, said, “I judge creative based on whether it made the hair on my arms stand on end.” The creative work I experienced at Cannes made me laugh, cry, turn away in disgust and gasp in shock. I didn’t consider the impact of creative in terms of quantitative measures – I let myself experience its hair-raising power.
As I process my experience, I have identified a few themes from the festival:
Equality: This year’s Cannes Lions was the year of the woman. There were panels and events exploring gender equality, both in the industry and in the creative. While most panels were focused on achieving equality in the work place, the creative reached a wider set of women with a different set of barriers. I loved a Peruvian beauty pageant’s replacement of body measurements with statistics on violence against women. SKII’s efforts to eradicate the notion of ‘leftover women’ in Asian countries – the term used to describe single women over 27 – was moving. (The video went viral.) Other groups were represented – P&G had a beautiful #loveoverbias and #thetalk campaign – but women owned the stage this year.
Technology: There was a debate about whether artificial intelligence (AI) can replace humans, particularly creatives. Speaker after speaker assured us that AI will never have the empathy to develop meaningful creative; I hope that’s true but remain unsure. There was plenty of discussion about Big Tech’s use of personal data, but that did not prevent people from heading to parties at Google and Facebook Beach.
Utility: The Global Creative Chair at Grey, Per Pedersen, spoke about “Solvertising” – advertising that creates awareness and also offers a solution. I enjoyed the shift from hashtag-able rally cries to tangible solutions. I loved ‘Project Free Period’ from J&J India, which recognized that periods provide sex workers their only days of respite. J&J, makers of Stayfree, used these days to teach women skills that will expand their money-earning opportunities. Adidas got German youth to use the public transport system through custom made sneakers embedded with a yearlong system pass.
Levity: We live in intense times and brands can grant us a moment of escape through laughter. A favorite of mine is Coke repurposing the Brazilian homophobic slur “this Coke is a Fanta.” They released a limited edition can of Coke: Coca-Cola red on the outside, Fanta soda on the inside. The can reads, “This Coke is a Fanta… so what?” I love this campaign because it makes me smile. KFC was rewarded with Cannes Lions for their “F*CK” ad, a masterclass in crisis management issued after running out of chicken at some restaurants. The Australians nailed levity with their trailer for “Son of Dundee” that turned out to be a tourism ad.
Accountability: I noticed a call for accountability and enacting mechanisms to create change. Palau pledge took home all the prizes, but I was personally taken with Nature Represented from Ecuador, an effort that grants legal rights to Ecuadorian nature and enables lawyers to defend it against mining and oil companies. I love a campaign that goes beyond intention to action, and travels from social feeds to courtrooms. Free the Bid is a movement that encourages corporations and agencies to put forth one female director for every three-way bid. They even created an online showcase for female filmmakers so there would be no excuses, just action.
There is now a focus on equality, social good and accountability; it is our responsibility and obligation to use creative as a force for good. To quote one of the Parkland shooting survivors, “The power that we hold is unimaginable.” I, for one, am ready to put that power to good use.