Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest [in adland] of them all?
Advertising. There’s no place it seems more pronounced than the Croisette during the Cannes Lions Festival.
An Adweek report last year said less than 2% of its delegates are ‘people of colour’ or from underrepresented communities. Les Lionnes, the French Not-For Profit, made up of 300 women working in advertising, calculated that of 31,000 Cannes entries across 89 countries last year, about 1,000-plus winners (just over 11%) came from agencies that had an equal gender split at department and board-level.
Thanks to COVID-19, 15,000 of the world’s ‘best and brightest’ professionals from the advertising and communications industry last week dodged what could have been a very confronting five days on the Croisette .
Whilst diversity and inclusion has been a key theme of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for the last few years, the public discourse on systemic inequality laid bare by the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, would have forced a harsh spotlight on our creative congregation and its outputs awaiting accolade, at the most prestigious of adland’s international awards and conference circuit.
Sure, we would have “pivoted”, but it’s likely the walk (to the stage) and the talk (at the lunch tables) would have been a sea of sameness.
The reflection in our mirror, the sparkling seas of the Cote d’Azur, is a picture that would have instantly told a thousand words.
Timing is everything
Mary Meeker, in her recent ‘Coronavirus Trends Report’ poses that perhaps COVID-19 is the wake-up call we needed to get to a better place?
Could the same be said for our industry, our inputs and outputs and Cannes? Mat Baxter, global CEO of Initiative, once described the event as a networking machine that “eats you and spits you out”.
Will the sequence of global crises 2020 has thrown at us be the wake-up call our industry needs to get to a better place?
Cannes Lions is proven at adapting to changes within the industry. This year ‘Lions Live’ was born out of crisis, limitation and constraint, arguably where often the best creativity flourishes. Registration was free, and all sessions were available on demand.
Our favourite Ad Contrarian, Bob Hoffman is known for publishing a list of clichés of the Festival ‘he’s avoided for a hundred years’. Predictable, worthy content dripping in platitudes from earnest female marketers, famous creative people wearing expensive eye-wear, a smattering of celebrities that swear by social media and the obligatory, casually-dressed holding company CEOs talking about the changing consumer. He’s not entirely wrong.
This year though, Hoffman’s perennial predictions, would have been off base.
Judging by the 40+ hours of content, masterclasses, lectures, talks from speakers (previously confirmed for the Festival), I’d say the awakening has begun.
This year’s Cannes Lions content was different
I’m fortunate to have experienced Cannes many times, unashamedly always returning inspired (sorry Bob) but overwhelmed at having tried to catch so many tennis balls thrown at me. From A-list celebs, rockstar marketers and tech gurus espousing future-facing content about AI, VR, biometric personalisation, how to optimise and maximise engagement and produce cutting-edge work for audiences by leveraging new tactics, tools, tech, apps and Ferris wheels...
But this year, Cannes Lions seemingly threw just one ball - to explore the role creativity can play in shaping the future and that creativity matters now more than ever. Without the iconic awards show.
Instead, 40+ hours of emotionally charged moments. Mostly agency folk and marketers, up-front, personal and on the record talking about challenges; how they are solving problems and embracing issues that are live and complicated. And acknowledging they need to step in and step up along with the Global CMO Growth Council backing it up with pledges that will reshape the entire supply chain.
A new kind of Festival of Creativity.
Gone was the marketplace of Adtech, Martech, platforms, consultants, deal-making, or VIP off-Croisette sessions. Stripped back for an all-access, 5-day schedule of human sentiment, challenge, optimism, problem-solving, with a call for courage and action.
There was no overt, virtual translation of the sponsorship machine that has been its lifeblood. A marked, and to be applauded, absence of the showmanship and symbols of extravagance that has traditionally characterised the walk from the Carlton Terrace to the Palais des Festival.
The 2020 Lions schedule was a window into a predominantly white industry reckoning with their responsibility to change. They talked about being more market oriented, to listen more intently and be willing to hear all voices, to take time to learn and understand how systemic inequality starts and is perpetuated within areas of their own control, to not rely solely on data and algorithms to guide strategy but to embrace emotion and gut instinct, to make changes to impact representation across the supply chain, investment, portrayal, content, to take a stand and defend the role creativity can and should play to create long term actions with accountability.
Hold us accountable, they said.
Dare I say it? It was five days of “purpose” moving into its next phase. I shudder and brace as I recall Professor Ritson loud and clear: ‘Brands are in no position to offer us purpose. I do not want Starbucks telling me about race relations and world peace – I want it to serve me a decent coffee in pleasant locations. Marketing is about profit not purpose. Use your budget to create sales, or you’ve failed.’
All I can say is, take three 25 min slots to listen to Conny Braams (new CMO Unilever), Jabari Paul (US Activism Manager at Ben & Jerry’s) and Marc Pritchard (Chief Brand Officer, P&G) share how the bastions of our industry, the great powerhouses of Unilever and P&G continue to furrow their commitment to purpose and performance. Beyond advertising content and fluffy end-lines.
Sure, some of it is the usual stuff, but once again timing is everything, the message anchored in accountability.
Other highlights? Make time for Professor Scott Galloway (always), don’t miss Peter Field and James Hurman on the new Creative Effectiveness Ladder, and prioritise the CMO’s in the spotlight, especially Bozoma Saint John and the Global CMO Growth Council.
In the crisis debate, linger on David Droga and Steve Stoute and fifteen minutes of Jean Remy Von Matt the creative heart of advertising in Germany also worth a glass of Rose in the Lions Shorts, a series of specially-commissioned films from world-leading creatives. They would be my short cuts to the week.
If you’re after CX, e-commerce, data and tech inspo, from my seat on the sofa there was only about 40 minutes of 40 hours on those themes. They stood out like the legendary leopard-clad Mother and Daughter duo that parade the Croisette, a little out of place.
Dear white people and men
Monica Lewinsky was my ‘Cannes instant behaviour change’ highlight of 2015, possibly ever. This year it was Phumzile Mlambo Ngucka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director of UN Women and Chair of the Unstereotype Alliance.
Her fifteen-minute address zeroed in on white people and men. Targeting precision and messaging, straight to the point.
She called out their awakening on discrimination, race and gender. She drew parallels between the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa and the Black Lives Movement, highlighting the role international brands played during apartheid to force the world not to look away.
She implored white people and men to not waste their privilege but to use it to make change. For brands to sustain the campaign that is raging, for the industry to use its’ specialist skills to influence thinking at scale, to not let the energy for change disappear.
Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer for P&G, and the master at rallying the global marketing community, sent his own clear and personal message of accountability and responsibility. ‘I hope you realise the difference you can make’, he posed.
He pledged that P&G would not be advertising on or near content that they determine is hateful, denigrating or discriminatory. He took action, joining a growing list of brands like Unilever, Verizon, Honda, Patagonia to boycott Facebook during a polarized election period.
This was then reinforced in the pledges by the Global CMO Growth Council, 25 CMOs of the world’s biggest brands, committing to pledges on equality, equity and inclusion. Listen to the session, it impacts the entire ecosystem.
A Cannes Lions not to forget.
It’s too early to say if the dual pandemics have changed the Festival of Creativity or the industry forever. But through the Lions Live platform, our ‘best and brightest’ have responded with the courage to commit their brands, their people and their efforts to action, activism and advocacy.
Compelling. If not us, then who, and if not now, then when?
I know the ‘purpose bull-shit detectors’ will be poised, rightly so. But this will be a movement that we will all be swept up in.
As for what the mirror will see next year? Only time will tell, it has a way of showing us what really matters.