The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is all about connections: the ones brands make with their audiences, the ones agencies make with brands (hello, new biz!) and the ones industry professionals make with each other. This culture of connectedness is real, palpable and full of key learnings for communicators.
The message that rang loudest to me at Cannes Lions was this: Society is demanding brand activism. Social consciousness is at an all-time high, and as people lose faith in more traditional institutions, they’re asking brands to take stands on the issues that matter to them. Brand purpose has become a nonnegotiable for consumers and employees.
But at times, this “connected” and purpose-driven culture at the festival also felt distinctly disconnected. Inauthentic, even. Hear me out.
Here’s a disconnect: An awards show celebrating campaigns that call attention to the climate change emergency attended by teams who then boarded yachts to celebrate their wins. Did you know Cannes Lions sells a yacht pass for a mere $30,000? It’s hard to overlook the disconnect here. I’m no environmental scientist, but I can’t imagine 300-foot yachts are environmentally friendly.
Another disconnect: Emphasizing the importance of brand trust while giving the COO of one of America’s most-hated companies a platform to deliver (what felt to me at times) an inauthentic PR response to Facebook’s user privacy breach. While listening to Sheryl Sandburg on the main stage, I struggled to accept her description of Facebook’s data controversy as “very hard.” Talk about an understatement.
I’m not exactly stating a revolutionary idea – the festival has received increased criticism over the years. Festival organizers even formed an advisory committee in 2017 in response to public concerns the event’s focus was becoming less on creative work and more on lavish parties.
Here’s the catch … despite all of this, I still tried to secure a coveted yacht party invite, and I still went to Facebook’s sponsored beach area every day for free food. I did this because I, like those around me, wanted to be a part of these communities, too. The takeaway here could just be that I’m a hypocrite … but it could also be representative of a bigger question:
We are demanding more from brands, but are we holding them accountable? And perhaps more importantly, we are demanding brands change, but are we prepared to change with them?
This all comes down to authentic leadership, transparency and communication. My big takeaway from Cannes is the need for brands to not only define their brand purpose, but to live them. Most brands did this well at Cannes, but in this spirit of accountability, I have to say a few of them fell flat. I’m thankful I got to learn from that, and hope they find opportunities to self-reflect and learn from it, too.
As a community of creative problem-solvers, let’s ask ourselves if we’re holding our companies and the events we attend accountable for living out the values they profess. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I feel confident that together we’ll be able to steer the ship (or should I say yacht) in a more authentic direction.