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Cannes Lions: The International Festival of Creativity – Where Creativity Meets the World

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (formerly the International Advertising Festival) is a global event for those working in creative communications, advertising, and related fields. It is considered to be the largest gathering of the advertising and creative communications industry.

Inspired by the Cannes Film Festival, staged in Cannes since the late 1940s, a group of cinema screen advertising contractors belonging to the Screen Advertising World Association (Sawa) felt the makers of advertising films should be similarly recognized. They established the International Advertising Film Festival, the first of which took place in Venice, Italy, in September 1954, with 187 film entries from 14 countries

Philip Thomas is the Chairman and Simon Cook the Managing Director. Thomas is also the President and Chief Executive Officer of Ascential Events, under which Cannes Lions operates.

The five-day festival, incorporating the awarding of the Lions awards, is held yearly at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès in Cannes, France. The week’s activities include multiple award ceremonies as well as an opening and closing gala.

The Festival Themes

This year’s festival agenda is built around six large themes, as identified by the global marketing community through the LIONS’ State of Creativity Study.

The Cannes Lions team did a study to determine the most pressing themes that will define what’s next and landed on a wide-ranging agenda which will cover: Sustainability, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI), Data + Technology, Brand Creativity + Effectiveness, Talent, and Business Transformation.

While the pandemic was a boon to highlighting how creativity can help brands be more resilient and weather any storm, there is now an urgency to apply a more empathic type of creativity to drive further progress. The festival is calling this new phenomenon Big ‘C’ creativity that should be applied to the heart of a business to drive innovation, purpose, business resilience and growth.

The festival content Programme and Global Councils of Progress will help us understand and contribute to the industry’s – and the world’s – most pressing challenges. This year’s creative themes analyzed those six priority areas: Sustainability; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Data and Technology; Brand Creativity and Effectiveness; Talent; and Business Transformation.



  1. Sustainability: It pays to be green

Sustainability in the creative landscape has been geared towards promoting economic and environmental actions that reduce our impact on the planet. But, recent success from Lion winners shows how it actually pays to be green. We’ve already started to see how ESG programs are continuing to be highlighted in marketing campaigns and comms for many of the brands that we know and love. We should expect to see this trend increasing because consumers are going out and telling us that they’re taking what they’re learning about these companies, their ESG efforts, sustainability, or DEI for example, and making direct buying decisions accordingly. According to a Forbes article that stated that 79% of consumers are changing purchase preference based on the product’s social or environmental impact. So naturally, marketers are going to capture that insight. Increasingly, telling this story in the right way, to the right target audience, is also how we’re going to build loyalty moving forward.

  1. Diversity, equity, and inclusion: Represent the underrepresented

Brands are transforming from the inside out to address the social inequalities in the world. Attitudes towards DEI goals and objectives are shifting at pace, but the industry still has a lot to do. We’ll start to hear is embracing the need for more diverse people telling diverse stories. Meaning not just having diversity in front of the camera, but brands getting focused on who is BEHIND the camera. This means consideration for building a team of diverse talent that will be leading the development of these strategies and campaigns inside of these companies as well as the ecosystem of agency and production partners and on down to the directors and the VO talent that are being hired to bring these stories to life. We should keep telling diverse stories on the teams we construct, and the ecosystem we put together, so we don’t unconsciously bias the story before it was even told.

  1. Talent: The competitive advantage

Human talent remains the most competitive factor in the creative industries, despite the fast-moving pace of technological innovation. However, agencies are still struggling to bring in talent. Talent is the new target consumer. We’re in a unique moment in time that we haven’t ever seen before. It’s a very, very competitive market, especially for marketers. I think we’re entering a time where one of our main target consumers, as we’re building marketing campaigns, is actually talent. Marketing now must think about how they benefit the firm by building outcomes, and even campaigns, for prospective candidates as a primary or secondary target to the campaign. We’ve seen the impact of high-quality employer brand work that includes DEI, sustainability, culture benefits, or even parental leave. Finding the right way to articulate what makes this the right environment for prospective candidates is the new challenge.

  1. Data and technology: Ready Player Two?

The metaverse offers huge potential for business growth and brands are starting to experiment. Understanding how to produce meaningful creative work in these virtual spaces will be imperative to social commerce and brand awareness. This has been a part of the conversation that has been growing and growing and is where art and science really meet. The science of this is becoming impossible to look away from. Automation is our friend when it comes to scaling brands. Tech stacks are becoming secret weapons for marketing leaders across every industry right now. So, do we have the right MarTech stack for our firm’s goals? That goes a lot deeper than a CRM platform and email flows. We can get pretty surgical with the tech stack today. There are plenty of new tech partners and solutions available to test to find the right options that are going to suit our product, your industry, your leadership style, etc. The key is how are we leveraging these different tools to get the most out of our marketing efforts and then ultimately ROI articulation. So, how are we setting up a tech stack to deliver data and insight into the ecosystem so we can start to create that flywheel of optimization?

  1. Business transformation: Re-imagine, reinvent and re-build

The role of the creative has changed as business transformation pushes brands into rethinking their operational processes. Increasingly, creatives are working closely with business leaders to align these internal processes with the brand’s future strategy and vision. In many ways, business transformation is all of the subjects we’ve just discussed in totality. There’s never been a better time to move the business commercially as a marketing leader. With flat to declining CMO tenures, and high turnover environments due to a variety of macroeconomic issues, it’s more important than ever to be able to prove the benefits of effective marketing practices. Gone are the days of making beautiful things just for beautiful things sake. This is where brand and performance marketing goals must meet in the middle. We’ve got to be able to tell that story but understanding how to move the business forward and change the trajectory, even for a healthy business, is critical. It has to be the new standard.

  1. Creative effectiveness: Ideas as investments

Creativity is crucial to brand survival, so proving its business impact is higher up the business agenda. With budgets constantly under review, there’s more at stake than ever. What’s exciting is that as an industry, we’ve finally moved past the days of burning money in the parking lot. I think the question that we should be asking ourselves as marketing leaders, and as marketers on any given initiative, is how hard is the work going to work for us? That’s got to be the key question we’re asking to kick off every project; is it solving our critical business challenge? How much does it actually move the needle? And how does that math add up to support the investment case?

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky Addresses Cannes Opening Ceremony:

The 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival officially kicked off this evening with an emotional opening ceremony that reached a pinnacle as Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky appeared via video to address the Palais audience live from Kyiv.

During his speech, Zelensky referred to Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and the role that film had in denouncing Hitler during World War II; the 1940 picture “didn’t destroy the real dictator, but thanks to this film, cinema was not silent,” he said.

The Ukraine president continued, “On February 24, Russia began a war of huge proportion against Ukraine with the intention of going further into Europe… Hundreds of people die every day. They are not going to get up after the end clap… Will cinema stay silent, or will it talk about it? If there is a dictator, if there is a war for freedom, again, it all depends on our unity. Can cinema stay out of this unity? … We need a new Chaplin who will prove that, in our time, cinema is not silent.”

Highlights on the 75th Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2022

Amidst several talks on pressing issues and pushing this years theme and agenda, Cannes 2022 was a great edition to the marcom community. Amongst many talks lets dive in a short highlight on what was being discussed:

The Big Tech tornado is gathering strength — a Cannes Lions perspective from Claire Atkinson

Amid all the thoughtful talk about sustainability and inclusion there was evidence aplenty that ad agencies, and even big media conglomerates, are shrinking in importance, as the tornado of big tech’s ad ambitions gathers strength.

Google, Meta, and Amazon literally owned the best beachfront real estate at Cannes, spending millions on huge exhibition spaces. Attendees were wowed by the cocktail hours, the digital music DJs, and whirring air conditioners ready to spritz them.

CNN’s Chris Licht implores advertisers to stop avoiding news

CNN chairman and CEO Chris Licht and Clarissa Ward, CNN’s chief international correspondent, made a joint plea to advertisers to stop avoiding news and support journalism.

Some of the world’s biggest-spending advertisers are in Cannes Lions to talk about cause marketing and brand purpose and Licht and Ward together pushed the idea that supporting journalism is a way to get behind those mission statements. Advertisers’ so-called whitelists, which block spending behind keywords such as COVID-19 or climate change, have deprived news outlets of revenue.

Ted Sarandos talks ads in Netflix’s first live Cannes Lions appearance

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos might have agreed to be interviewed at a major advertising festival, but he wasn’t quite ready to share many details of the streaming giant’s plans to bring ads to its platform.

The executive, who also serves as Netflix’s chief content officer, said that the timing of Cannes Lions was such that he didn’t have much to offer the crowd packed into the Lumiere Theatre about the launch of ads.

Greenpeace crashes celebrations along the Croisette to protest fossil fuel ads

Greenpeace has taken advantage of the weeklong gathering of advertising executives to protest the industry’s work promoting fossil fuels. Greenpeace’s presence at Cannes Lions is part of the organization’s involvement in a petition calling for laws that would ban fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship in the EU.

Google shares news about inclusion

Google’s chief marketing officer, Lorraine Twohill, was asked what her biggest industry challenges are and responded, “We’ve had a decade of digital transformation in two years. What does that mean for all of us?” Twohill was hosting a press breakfast on Tuesday centered on Google’s inclusion efforts, which involve addressing diverse viewpoints from in front of and behind the camera.

Themes for Marketing Professionals

From the metaverse to brand purpose, winning brands at this year’s Cannes Lions festival shone and took a stand. Here are the creative themes that can be observed from the winning ads.

  1. Win New Audiences with Creativity

We saw a true outburst of creativity from this year’s winners – moving beyond paid media. Many awarded brands took concrete action. Mibanco, a Peruvian bank, changed its internal policy to consider all married women as single, as in Peru financial institutions mandate that a married woman seeking a loan must obtain her husband’s signature on the loan application. Mibanco made an impact in the community and effectively challenged the sector to do better, earning it a Gold Lion in Brand Experience and Activation.


Web 3.0 and the Metaverse can seem hard to grasp. Cannes week brought lots of ideas about how to use the latest technological developments and what creativity will look like. The winner of Grand Prix for Digital Craft – Back Up Ukraine – gives Ukrainians a chance to protect their cultural heritage amidst war in a metaverse in the cloud, to not only preserve memory but potentially drive restoration efforts.

  1. Level Up

We saw a shift towards ‘doing purpose’ and investing in activities that make a difference to people’s lives and the environment. Google’s Real Tone camera improves the image quality for people with darker skin tones. Dole Sunshine Company made a move towards its zero-waste goal by partnering with Ananas Anam to use leftover pineapple leaves to create vegan leather.

  1. Lighten Up

In the age of purpose, only a few winners left the audience in stitches, but those who did really lightened up the atmosphere and won people’s hearts. Yet again, humour came to the forefront. If brands lighten up, they can connect better with people and shake off some of the pretenses that consumers dislike.

  1. Deliver

While creativity is front and center at Cannes Lions, discussions about its effectiveness abounded, indicating that marketers are keeping the big picture in mind. Ryan Reynolds also called out the fact that brands are seemingly afraid of doing product advertising well and he said there was no shame to “get right to the product.” In fact, in his eyes, it is yet another way to be truthful with the audience as they are aware they are being marketed to.

Cannes Lions Creativity Festival’s Week in Review

  • Carla Buzasi, WGSN’s President and CEO, kicked off Monday morning with a packed session on the Forum Stage, focused on the future consumer, where she spotlighted the four sentiments and profiles set to drive 2024 forward (be sure to download our Future Consumer 2024 white paper for a recap).
  • Tuesday was focused on digital futures and WGSN’s Senior Strategist, Cassandra Napoli, took to the Discovery Stage to present Brand-building in The Metaverse: Three Simple Steps, which highlighted the three “C’s of the metaverse”: (1) community-building; (2) co-creation; and (3) commerce.
  • Head of Insight Joe McDonnell delivered a highly anticipated session on virtual influencers on Wednesday, which featured a live interview with Zero, a virtual character with 119K Instagram followers, created by Offbeat Media. On Thursday, WGSN Insight closed out the week in the south of France with Andrea Bell, WGSN’s VP of Consumer Insight who expertly answered the question on every marketer’s mind: how do we engage with Gen Z?
  • Throughout the week, attendees of WGSN talks received a Golden Ticket to The Future, which led them to download our new white paper on the 2024 Consumer. With sustainability in mind, these ‘mini white papers’ helped us work towards a more sustainable planet, by using HP Indigo Carbon Neutral presses, eco-friendly HP ElectroIns, manufactured at a 14001 environmentally certified printers on FSC sustainably sourced carbon balanced paper.
  • A variety of tech companies descended on the Croisette and delivered buzzy activations, providing experience-hungry festival-goers memorable moments that were both physical and digital.

  • Pinterest: Pinterest took over the Carlton Beach Club to host an experience that was designed to be a positive exploration of creativity, similar to the role its platform plays in consumers’ lives. Visitors could explore their artistry via a sneaker customisation class, experiment with their looks via various beauty makeovers with artists, get a tattoo, and even enter a contest for a chance to win a gift for a loved one at home via its gift-giving space.
  • Snapchat: the platform teamed with Vogue to host Redefining the Body, an exhibit at the Centre d’art La Malmaison. The stunt leveraged Snap’s AR Try-On technology, letting visitors and Snapchat users globally experiment with designs and branded displays in the rooms of the space from seven fashion houses, including Gucci and Balenciaga, as well as the UK’s Richard Quinn and Nigeria’s Kenneth Ize.
  • Shutterstock: the stock image site is emerging as a leader in the 3D space, and hosted an activation to demonstrate this. Visitors could unlock 3D effects on their phones and also have their portraits taken by David Fisher, which were turned into NFTs to be used across social media.
  • Investment takes many forms. Companies should consider more favorable payment terms — like payment of invoices in 30 days. Those structures can really help diverse businesses be more competitive.
  • Media metrics need to evolve to encompass the impact of Black-owned media and creators. Traditional metrics of success are not necessarily capturing the total value.
  • Content from Black creators reaches everyone, not only the Black community.

The Awards

The Cannes Lions Awards have been the undisputed global benchmark for creative excellence since 1954, celebrating ideas that grow businesses, build iconic brands and shift culture. Winning a Lion is a career milestone, future proofs your business’s growth and gives you world-wide exposure. Only a small percentage of all work that is entered every year goes on to win a Lion. Winners really are part of a global community of game changers.

This year Nine tracks encompass 28 specialist awards which reflect the breadth of disciplines across the global branded communications industry. They provide a structure to navigate the Cannes Lions Awards, talks, learning experiences and expanding digital platform.

This year’s juries have been hard at work assessing 25,464 entries. Work was entered from 87 countries which saw a 32% increase in entries year-on-year.

For many people, Cannes is about winning a Lion, the Oscar of the marketing and communications industry. And the statuettes that matter most are the Grand Prix’s, awarded for the single best entry in each of Cannes Lions’ 30 categories.

The Cannes Lions team now divides the award categories into nine groups. These are:

1) “Classic”: Film, Outdoor, Print and Publishing, Radio and Audio

2) “Craft”: Design, Digital Craft, Film Craft, Industry Craft

3) “Engagement”: Creative B2B, Creative Data, Direct, Media, PR

4) “Entertainment”: Entertainment, Entertainment for Music, Entertainment for Sport

5) “Experience”: Brand Experience and Activation, Creative Business Transformation, Creative Commerce, Innovation and Mobile

6) “Good”: Glass (as in ‘glass ceiling’), Grand prix for Good, UN Social Development Goals 7) “Health”: Health and Well-being, Health Grand Prix for Good, Pharma

8) “Strategy”: Creative Effectiveness, Creative Strategy

9) “Titanium”: a single category meaning ‘multi-channel’ or ‘multi-discipline’

The ‘Classic’ categories (four out of 30) represent what is left of ‘advertising’. Any readers over the age of 25 may remember that until quite recently, the Cannes Lions used to be called the Cannes Advertising Festival, and used to present prizes for advertising.

Brands are flocking to virtual spaces to explore and experiment, which was a key focus at Cannes Lions. The evolution of relevant marketing was also discussed at length amid a changing landscape, where consumers are increasingly in control as co-conspirators of branded creative output.

At the same time, amid a global reprioritization of values around work and wellness, people and planet commanded attention at this year’s festival, with speakers advocating for greenvertising and a need to empower employees amid a talent crisis.

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