Spending a week at the Cannes Lions Festival is pretty surreal. You are on the French Rivera, in incredibly close proximity to A-list celebs, C-suite execs and everywhere you turn people are offering you free smoothies, cocktails or – at the very least – a branded memory stick. Within the heady environment and the hedonistic beach parties, it can be easy to forget why we’re there – to celebrate the power of creative communication. While our day jobs require that we closely measure purchase intent percentages and stock price fluctuations, it was freeing to spend a week holding creative to completely 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.’ Over the week, the creative work I experienced 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 everything I saw, heard and experienced, I have identified a few themes that ran throughout the festival:

Equality: I suspect a lot of people will refer to this year’s Lions as the year of the woman. There were many dedicated panels and events exploring gender equality, both in the industry and in the creative that we put out in the world. While many of the panels were focused on how to achieve equality in the work place, the creative reached a far wider set of women with a very different set of barriers. I particularly loved a Peruvian beauty pageant taking on violence by replacing body measurements with statistics about violence committed against women, and SKII’s powerful efforts to eradicate the notion of ‘left over women’ in many Asian countries. There was a move towards representing other groups – most notably P&G’s beautiful and sob inducing #loveoverbias and #thetalk – but I would say that women owned the stage this year.

Technology: At a creative festival, it was natural that there was a robust debate about whether AI can replace humans and (let’s get to the real heart of the question…) Creatives. Speaker after speaker assured us that AI will never have the empathy to develop meaningful creative; I hope that’s true, but remain sceptical on a good day and terrified on a bad one. As you might expect there was a lot of discussion about the big tech platforms and their use of data – I must admit it does feel a bit uncomfortable to listen to Scott Galloway skewer the big four tech companies and then head to a party at Google or Facebook Beach. Based on the length of lines I waited in to enter, it seems most of us were able to drown our discomfort in rose…

Utility: Per Pedersen, the Global Creative Chair at Grey, spoke about ‘Solvertising’, suggesting that advertising has a role in fixing problems – I enjoyed seeing the shift from hashtag-able rallying cry to tangible solutions that make the world a better place. I loved ‘Project free Period’ from J&J India which recognised that, for the country’s disenfranchised sex workers, periods provide their only days of respite. J&J, as makers of Stayfree, used these days to teach women skills that would open-up more ways to earn money, while giving them dignity and hope. On a lighter note, Adidas lured German youth to the much-avoided public transport system through a custom pair of sneakers that had a yearlong pass embedded in the shoe. Amazing, right?

Levity: We live in intense times and, while brands can do good, they can also gift us a moment of escape by making us laugh. One of my favorites is this Coke execution which takes on the Brazilian homophobic slur ‘this Coke is a Fanta’ by releasing a limited edition can of Coke; Coca-Cola red on the outside, but filled with Fanta on the inside. The can reads, ‘this Coke is a Fanta… so what?’ I know this can get filed under social good, but I love it not because its worthy, but because it makes me smile. KFC was rewarded with Lions for their masterclass in crisis management by issuing the famous F*CK ad in response to running out of chicken, and the Australians nailed levity with their trailer for ‘Son of Dundee’ which turned out to be a tourism ad; worth a watch when you next need a laugh.

Accountability: Back to Creative as a force for good, one of the shifts I noticed this year was a call for accountability and putting mechanisms in place to act and create change. Even though Palau pledge took home all the prizes, I was really taken with Nature Representedfrom Ecuador; an effort that granted legal rights to nature under fundamental primary law and enabled lawyers around the globe to donate pro-bono hours to defend Ecuadorian nature against mining and oil companies. I love a campaign that goes beyond intention to action, and travels from social feeds to courtrooms. Bringing accountability to our businesses and specifically the bid process, Free the Bid is a movement that encourages corporations and agencies to put forth one female director for every three-way bid. Sick of hearing, ‘but we don’t know any female creatives…’ they created an online showcase for female filmmakers. No excuses, just action.

Considering the focus on equality, social good and a shift towards accountability, the conversation has moved from an opportunity for brands to use creative as a force for good to an obligation and responsibility. To quote one of the most moving speakers of the Festival, a students who survived the shooting in Parkland, Florida, ‘the power that we hold is unimaginable.’ I’m ready to put that power to use…

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