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Marketing and Comms
Cannes Lions Was a Climate Kindergarten; Time to Mature the Conversation

This year's awards recognized a historic number of climate-related campaigns; but as an industry, we continue to talk in circles.

You can’t ignore the world’s biggest advertising festival, Cannes Lions, and its impact. Yet talking about sustainability at an advertising festival as grand as Cannes can still feel like pitching peace at a weapons conference.

Marcel Marcondes, global CMO of AB InBev, opened the festival – he did so, because AB InBev is the first brand in the festival’s history was named Advertiser of the Year for the second year in a row for its successful and effective way of driving growth. He reminded us that, while everyone can make mistakes, his role is to utilize creativity and his partner agencies’ creativity to drive that growth.

The big question is: Can the advertising industry ever grow responsibly? The urgent call for climate action launched ahead of Cannes Lions this year stayed mostly unanswered across both the programming and the conversations. DEI was strongly represented, as it has been for many years — and it is supported by a Glass Lion; yet, climate still doesn’t have an award or even a focused track at the festival. This is a disappointment, as our industry lacks education — as is evident on the reemerged focus on greenwashing. For me, it’s like going back a decade, when greenwashing was first a concern. It’s incredibly sad to see that we keep talking about the same things instead of exploring the tougher topics.

There’s a push to turn sustainability and climate into a black and white topic. It’s the industry’s own fault, with its counterproductive focus on corporate activism — which, for the most part, is virtue signaling. The way forward is to be found in the nuances within the topic of sustainability — and that’s what we need to discuss at Cannes. It should be a meeting of peers, where we’re not afraid to discuss and where we acknowledge it’s ok to disagree. We need honest climate conversations — not yet another sales pitch from a brand that went from talking about the greatest mayonnaise in the world to how great it is at saving the world.

Standout climate-related creative

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As big a disappointment as Cannes Lions was across programming and the lack of focus on climate, it’s the first time in its history that we’ve seen that many Grand Prixes and Golds focused on climate. My top pick would be the campaign by the United Nations Global Compact’s Brazilian arm that turned Earth into a company, EART4, and took it public on the stock exchange. The work shines a light on the importance of putting a value on our planetary dependency — and how climate change is creating real economic havoc around the world.

It was also great to see the challenges transforming the Global South being tackled in a second Grand Prix. As rising sea levels due to climate change threaten its physical territory, the island country of Tuvalu has been forced to become the “world’s first digital nation.”

The Solar Impulse Foundation, founded by explorer and environmentalist Bertrand Piccard, launched an exciting legislative push in France“Prêt à Voter” (“ready to vote”). It’s 50 law proposals shared with elected French MPs to help accelerate current regulations for the climate transition; already, three of them have been adopted. Creativity does work!

I also want to share one low-tech idea: Life-Extending Stickers — clever produce stickers created by South African retailer Makro that can help consumers stop wasting fresh fruit and vegetables by educating them on how to use different items at different stages of ripeness. The sticker’s gradient matches the ripeness color of various fruits and vegetables. Along the wheel, text shows you the best way to cook it at each color: Bananas, for example, smoothly transition from green (fry it) to yellow (ice cream) to slightly brown (tempura) to brown (“cupcake”).

Lights, camera, climate action?

There are two types of brands in Cannes. Those that stick to their strategy and despite economic uncertainty push forward on sustainability. And then there are those that think short term and abandon the ‘green’ ship (it’s like pissing in your pants — it will stink at some point).

Let’s embrace failure. I’m not perfect (admittedly, I sometimes unintentionally help companies that greenwash; but on a good day, I believe I’m leaving an impact) and our industry is far from perfect (it’s still an oxymoron to talk about sustainability and advertising). Yet let’s embrace creativity and put marketing and advertising as the lead horse behind responsible and, hopefully one day, sustainable or even regenerative growth. Our climate-changing world is just waiting for us to answer.