When you mention Cannes, most people think “film festival.” Yet, this sparkling resort town on the French Riviera is home to another equally prestigious event: The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Since 1954, this festival has celebrated creative excellence by bringing together the world’s top marketing and communications leaders and brands.
To be clear, winning a LION is like winning an Oscar. It’s a big deal.
I had the privilege of covering the 2022 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The experience was truly unforgettable! Here are a few highlights.
PROXIMITY IS KEY
If you would have told me before attending Cannes Lions that I was going to have personal conversations with Google CMO Lorraine Twohill, singer-songwriter Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, YouTuber Mark Rober and documentary film director Coodie Simmons (among many others), I would have laughed. I quickly learned that proximity to greatness is one of the biggest benefits of attending this festival.
The idea of proximity was best explained to me by Donald Knight, chief people officer for Greenhouse Software. Knight, who goes by @proximityknight online, shared how he came to value the idea of creating proximity with others to break down interpersonal barriers and amplify opportunity.
“In America, we talk about being a melting pot, but we haven’t started melting,” Knight says. “The majority of folks aren’t creating proximity with one another. The beauty of growing up with parents in the military [i.e. Military B.R.A.T.] is that I didn’t grow up with the same ‘American’ lens. I have a global lens, which has helped me to create proximity with other people. Now I have a responsibility to help Americans do the same.
“One way I’ve done this is by hosting Proximity Dinners in Atlanta [Ga., U.S.A.], which I created with one of my best friends, Robin Moriarty,” he continues. “It’s based on the idea of exclusive inclusion. Everybody gets to invite one person they have proximity with. Once you get to the dinner, you have to create proximity with everyone else — you melt together, like a big bowl of gumbo. This creates amazing opportunities for everyone, but you have to be intentional about it.”
I took these words to heart, both during the festival and beyond. When we intentionally create proximity with others, we allow for serendipity to work its magic. A chance meeting can spark a lifelong friendship, a profound shift in understanding, or simply an unforgettable moment.
MARKETING CHANGES THE NARRATIVE
Before I attended Cannes Lions, I had the idea that marketing was, in essence, manipulation. In other words, I believed the sole purpose of marketing was to get someone to buy something.
After my first hour at Cannes Lions, I realized what a narrow, misguided view I had taken.
I now see that marketing, when used with integrity, can be a powerful force for good. It can open minds, inspire change and foster community. Once I saw it, I couldn’t un-see it. And, fortunately for me, there was plenty to see.
While walking through the Cannes Lions Awards Hall of Fame, I was mesmerized by the creative force of marketers worldwide. One in particular that really blew my hair back was the “Share The Load” campaign, which was developed by BBDO of India for Procter & Gamble’s Ariel detergent. Josy Paul, chairperson and chief creative officer of BBDO India, explained how creativity drives meaningful action:
When you have deep empathy – absolute connection with human beings – they give you something. And, all you’re doing as a creative person is taking that gift through your own lens and giving it back to them. Therefore, you never have to sell an idea because it already resides in the person.
When I watched the “Share The Load” commercial, I wept. The story centers around a grandfather watching his adult daughter arrive home from work and immediately begin cleaning, cooking, tending to her son, handing her husband tea, and doing laundry – all while finishing a work conversation from her cell phone. It’s a typical story for many working mothers, yet seeing it through a regretful father’s eyes was so powerful.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was a central theme during the festival. By improving the visibility of diverse groups and shining a light on underrepresented creative talent, brands are working to address global social inequalities.
On the first day of the festival, I discovered The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge, where festivalgoers could mingle, relax and hear from distinguished speakers working to uplift the status of women, both as consumers and within the industry itself.
“DEI is important, but belonging is the glue that holds it all together,” Guinn says. “Equity is just the beginning – it tries to right a wrong. The key is individual action, in community. If everybody is doing it then nobody is doing it alone. [Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion] is not a destination, it’s a continuum of getting better.”
Later in the week, I attended several panel discussions at the Bloomberg Media ESG House where speakers discussed topics around sustainability, innovation, inclusion, and wealth creation. Ryan Reynolds spoke about his uplifting Group Effort Initiative as well as his newly announced nonprofit “The Creative Ladder,” which aims to create pathways for a new generation of creative industry leaders from all backgrounds.
Ebony co-hosted a panel discussion on “Diverse Creators, Leaders and Owners in Media,” featuring Tracee Ellis Ross, actor, producer and CEO of Pattern Beauty, filmmakers Coodie & Chike, EBONY Editor-in-Chief Marielle Bobo and AdCouncil’s Chief Equity Officer Elise James-DeCruise.
Tracee Ellis Ross spoke about how she lends her voice to increasing representation in the media.
“Representation is an integral part of who I am, so it finds its way into everything I do,” she says. “With Pattern, just the idea that we are a haircare brand for the curly, coily and tight-textured masses in and of itself is something that changes the narrative of how we are seen in the beauty industry.
“I wanted to see a paradigm shift in the way haircare products were marketed to our community,” Ross continues. “I wanted to offer a promise versus a solution to a problem because I don’t think our hair is a problem – it’s something to be celebrated.”
CANNES, AFTER HOURS
Of course, it wasn’t all “work” (was any of it?). There was plenty of time to relax and enjoy the slow flavors of the French Riviera. Perhaps because Cannes is in such close proximity to Italy, the gelato was incredible. I also enjoyed one of the best salad niçoise of my life (again, probably because Nice sits just to the east of Cannes).
Of course, food tastes best when you’re in good company. Culturs Founder Doni Aldine and I savored the flavors together.
I’LL BE BACK…
In case you’re reading this from the Palais des Festivals, perhaps we’ll bump into one another. I’ll be back again to bring you more incredible content from the 70th International Festival of Creativity on June 19-23, 2023.