Cannes 2019: Creativity with Purpose

Cannes Lions 2019 is a wrap! All the gold has been awarded, the parties have come to an end, and thousands of exhausted attendees have flown home. In my fifth year attending, I’m struck with how rapidly and remarkably our industry continues to evolve.

If you’ve been to Cannes, you probably agree that the toughest aspect of the festival is figuring out how to do everything you want in the week you’re there. Cannes is a chance not only to see some of the best creative work across the globe, but a window into the overall zeitgeist of the communications industry. This year was no exception. The speakers, exhibitors, brand activations, technologies and overall energy of Cannes was thrilling, if not overwhelming.

Image from Cannes Lions

What left me most inspired was how social consciousness was at critical mass. The expectation that brands take a stand—with real skin in the game—came through in a number of big awards. The Cannes’ Good Track “celebrates powerful creativity that goes beyond brand purpose to positively impact the world” with award categories for both sustainability and gender equality.

This is where some of the most exciting work was happening at the festival. Gazeta.PL, Poland’s leading newspaper, took Titanium and Glass Lions for purchasing one of Poland’s longest-running and most-read porn magazines just to shut it down. French supermarket chain Carrefour won a Grand Prix by creating a black market to sell illegal produce grown from seeds restricted by agricultural giants, starting a protest movement and getting the law overturned. Badger & Winters launched #nokidsincages, a bold guerilla art installation that placed child mannequins sleeping under blankets in cages throughout major cities, calling attention to the plight of immigrant children in detention centers in the United States.

Image from Cannes Lions

Gender equality and inclusion was a critical discussion point again this year at Cannes. Ongoing daily panels such as “Badass Women” shined a spotlight on the issues facing women today while showcasing prominent female leaders. This highlighted a slow-to-change status quo with women in leadership, gender pay gaps, and inclusion of minorities across virtually every aspect of our industry. According to recent research from Bizzabo, Cannes outpaces its peers in gender diversity with 44% of festival speakers being female. While positive advancements were applauded, the advertising and communications world still has a long way to go.

There was lots of talk around “woke washing”—purpose-driven campaigns that fail to take real action—and how it’s infecting our industry. As Unilever CEO Alan Jope pointed out, “Purpose-led brand communications is not just a matter of ‘make them cry, make them buy.’ It’s about action in the world.”

While I waited for a car to the airport and bid Cannes farewell until next year, I was struck by the incredible opportunity we hold to create powerful, sustainable changes through the brands we represent—and in turn, build real trust with consumers. It is well within our purview, as advertisers, marketers, and communicators to support the change we want to see for our people, planet and future.