Cannes Lions 2018: Unleashing Creativity for the Greater Good

Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is the annual global showcase for creative communicators in the advertising and public relations industry. This year, like the last two, it has become clear that it is not just about creative communications to sell brands anymore; nowadays it is just as much about image and how that is determined by the actions brands take in society.

Ban Ki-moon, the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations summed it up best when he said, “You have tremendous power to shape opinions. You are master storytellers. And I want you to help us create the biggest campaign ever for humanity.”

Many of the Cannes Lions’ award-winners last week represented the ‘best of the best’ in unleashing creativity for the greater good.

Palau Pledge,’ the ambitious campaign dedicated to ensuring environmental stewardship for the small island nation of Palau, one of the week’s top campaigns, took home two major Grand Prix awards – the coveted Titanium and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Lions.  The campaign included a pledge that visitors sign within the visa stamp in their passports, which acts as an agreement to protect the environment on entering the country. This was the first year of the new SDG Lion award and received more than 900 entries. Proceeds from the entries for the SDG honor, in collaboration with the United Nations (UN), are set to go to sustainable development causes in the coming months.

Libresse’s “Blood Normal,” a campaign by the international brand of feminine hygiene products owned by Essity, a Swedish consumer goods company, earned the Glass Lion for Change Grand Prix.  The campaign successfully put periods front and center to help destigmatize menstruation.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a social phenomenon, but the resulting ‘Project Revoice‘ for the ALS Association, to help give people with ALS the ability to speak freely and naturally in their own voice even after they can’t physically speak, won the Grand Prix for Good Lions. ‘Project Revoice’ is a voice cloning program to help people like Pat Quinn, the co-founder of the ice bucket challenge, gain back their voice.

A campaign described by one jury president as a kind of ‘cure for paralysis’ won the Health Grand Prix for Good.  ‘Blink to Speak’ is an ‘eye language’ created for the NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute and the nonprofit Asha Ek Hope Foundation to help people with paralysis communicate.

P&G won a Grand Prix award with its wildly successful ‘The Talk’ campaign – a thought-provoking campaign inspiring conversations about racial bias and encouraging dialogue between people of all backgrounds and experiences.

In recognition of his commitment to building sustainability into the heart of Unilever’s operations, the 2018 Cannes LionHeart Award went to CEO Paul Polman.  Polman and the company also used this year’s festival to double down on their ‘Unstereotype Alliance,’ a coming together of powerful consumer brands who, in their own words, “seek to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes.”

In addition, Aline Santos, Unilever’s global executive VP of marketing and head of diversity and inclusion spoke about brand purpose highlighting that the actions of a brand are not only shaping perceptions, they are also making sound business sense stating, “our research has revealed that progressive ads are 16 percent more relevant, 21 percent more credible, and can drive purchase intent by as much as 18 percent.”

And Alex Weed, CMO at Unilever said, ‘The company’s Sustainable Living brands grew 50% faster than the rest of their portfolio and delivered 60% of its growth.” Brands now clearly understand the power they have to change the world.  They know that their customers expect them to make the world a better place. Their shareholders, and especially their employees, expect the same.

This year on the beautiful La Croisette, much of the focus was clearly on brand activism, social justice, diversity and the creative opportunity within our current cultural chasms.

Ellen Pompeo, actress and activist called on all Brands to ‘have a moral center and take a stand.’

Abby Wambach, American retired soccer player, coach, two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion reminded us that “diversity is inviting someone to the table; inclusion is allowing them to speak.”

Mark Pritchard, Chief Brand Building Officer at P&G made it clear that “promoting gender equality is not only a force for good, it’s a force for growth for brands.”

As I have covered before, brands have shifted to supporting more sociopolitical issues than ever before.  That’s why this year’s conversation track had many key highlights in that area.

From #MeToo⁠ ⁠founder Tarana Burke saying she “continues to be surprised when women’s allegations are heard and have consequences.”

To Katie Couric explaining the importance of “going deeper” when reporting on the Trump administration.

And Akon, the American singer and song writer commenting on Trump’s family separation policy by saying, “You have to be an evil person to think that’s OK.”

Adam Rippon, the Olympic star and LGBTQ activist and inspiration for youth stated, “I’m not the typical American boy, my brand feels like the face of the new boy next door.”

Parkland students Madison Leal, Sam Zeif, and Kai Koerber shared their accounts of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the Festival condemning President Trump and members of congress for putting “money over children’s lives.”  “I don’t think they understand that we’re the employers and they’re the employees,” Zeif said. “It’s either you’re with us or against us. And if you’re against us, you’re out. So, they won’t be in office much longer.”

The creative communications industry is also taking steps to change its own culture.

Communications agency, Ogilvy announced a commitment to hiring 20 women into high-level creative roles by end of 2020 at this year’s Festival.

P&G’s Marc Pritchard, Katie Couric and seven other CMOs participated in the @SeeHer2020 CMO panel to discuss a shared mission to increase the accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising.  P&G also committed to 90% of P&G advertising having women directors in the pitch process.

Also at the festival, Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and David Attenborough, English broadcaster and naturalist announced a new wildlife fund backed by the brand giants at Cannes. The fund, associated with the United Nations, will be called ‘The Lion’s Share’ and seeks to raise $100 million in three years for wildlife conservation programs.  The money will come from advertisers who use animals in their ads, giving 0.5 percent of their ad spending to the fund.

Finally, one of the best highlights of the week rich in content and learning for social change communicators came from Madonna Badger, the mastermind behind Cannes Lions 2017’s #womennotobjects – a petition campaign urging the festival to avoid awarding ads that objectify women.

Badger stepped on stage wearing black at the Cannes Lions closing awards show Friday night and delivered a stirring speech that summed up several recent movements to lift up women in an industry and world that has often held them back.

“Yes, she is equal, and yes we are definitely women not objects,” she told an audience that included the the globe’s most successful brands.  “In the Glass Lion Jury, we stand by tough moms, we are a force of nature, and in our dress of respect, we need a man like you to end the rape tax.”

Her speech alluded to the advertising industry’s recent reckoning with sexual harassment as well as broader inequality. ‘The rape tax’ refers to a project shining a light on the fact that victims are charged an average of $1,000 for hospital visits.

As Cannes’ focus on activism and diversity shows, change is coming and marketers ignore it at their own peril.  This year’s Festival showed the creative communicators that doing their best means breaking down barriers and changing the world.

[Photo: Cannes Lions]