Cannes Lions 2019: Screw the nice gestures, more real impact
Posted on June 27, 2019 | By Thomas Kolster

Behind the scenes from a Sustainable Development Goal’s jury member at Cannes Lions 2019.

Making change happen beats good intentions and the Sustainable Development Goals are leading the way towards creativity that actually solves issues at this year’s World Cup of Advertising: Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. No doubt, campaigns addressing social and environmental issues were dominating the Cannes Lions winner’s podium in general: the highly coveted Cannes Lions. But for the most part those campaigns were clowns dressed as angels and the real impact left to be seen or rather questionable. I’ve for years rallied Cannes Lions to take change more seriously and last year the festival decided to launch a prize dedicated to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Impactful, scalable and innovative

This year I was happy to be invited onboard the jury of this quickly evolving category. More than 800 initiatives from across the globe were entered. When going through the work, I was both hopeful and utterly pessimistic. There were exciting impactful lighthouses tackling overconsumption and climate change such as Do Black – a credit card that shows your carbon footprint and even has a carbon limit. But, unfortunately important categories like poverty, hunger, clean water and sanitation were lacking quality solutions. These are the forgotten causes, we really need to talk about. It’s an opportunity for any brand, agency or innovator doing great work in these fields! In the jury we had long conversations about the sort of work we wanted to shine a light on, and three criteria were pivotal: impact, scalability and creativity/innovation.

I was pleased to see new innovative solutions like Carlsberg’s Snap Pack waving goodbye to the six-pack ring. Corona’s Fit Packs, cans that can be screwed together for easier transportation. Or Mimica Touch a packaging label that indicates when food or beverages have turned bad or unsafe to eat or drink. It goes to show that there are plenty of room for creativity in the packaging space.

Join the change

The big winner this year was The Lion’s Share taking home the Grand Prix. A clever initiative launched by Mars whereby advertisers featuring animals in their advertising (apparently more than 20% do) can volunteer to pay for those animals “model’s rights” to the Lion’s Share foundation supporting conservation projects around the world. A clever fundraising mechanism already making an impact on the ground. Lion’s Share did not only receive a trophy, but more than 300.000 € made from the entries. It’s an important effort as a UN report warned that more than one billion of the planet’s species are facing extinction by humans.  I’ll encourage any advertiser to participate in supporting the Lion’s Share. 

Another case, that really touched my heart was the Open Door Project, where a private school in India was opening its door after hours to underprivileged children in the community. More than 25 million children in India don’t have access to quality education. It’s a project, that can easily be scaled in other parts of the world. No need to reinvent the wheel as a brand or an organisation, there are many initiatives with proven track-record you can join or support.

Build bridges, not walls

In many categories such as gender equality or climate change it was sad to see many initiatives preaching to the converted, what a waste of money and effort! These are the sort of initiatives that are creating a divide in society. If you’re educated about climate change, don’t point fingers at others. It’s the same as if you’re good at math in school, you shouldn’t bully your classmate that struggle, but rather help him or her. It’s about time we create a positive, inclusive narrative around the issues rather than the fiery rhetoric and corporate activism we see from most brands. If you know better, it’s your responsibility to help. While we were judging, Extinction Rebellion, staged a protest against the advertising industry on the red carpet in front of the festival and one of the organisers, William Skeaping, tweeted: "Came hoping we could get the advertising industry to help tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency but now have a sinking feeling that we're totally fucked." The pressure in on.

The Sustainable Development Goals is an opportunity for everyone to come together, speak a shared language and find shared solutions, but for the most part it’s still nice gestures like a trending fist bump rather than new schools built. Our industry’s survival is on the line and unlike a billion animals threatened by extinction, nobody is going to miss the majority of brands or feel sorry for an unemployed marketeer.