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Cannes this be for someone like me?

Around 20,000 people have descended onto the South of France this week for the 71st Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Regarded as the Oscars to the creative industry, this is a celebration, a convention, and a curation of content. Representatives from creative agencies, brand marketers, and the tech platforms that facilitate communications are all in Cannes to make connections, launch products, elevate knowledge, and have all-important industry discussions. 

Being both a non-drinker and advertising industry ‘newcomer’, I was on a quest to find out if I had a place at Cannes.

Two caveats:  

  1. This is my second trip to the festival, so I already had a sense of what was coming – top-tier fashion, giveaways, and the perennial question of how does one get invited to the coveted Spotify party?

  2. As Cannes Lions’ official DEI partner, I am not truly a newcomer.

Having attended in 2022, I had some ideas of what to expect. While I was excited to observe what had changed, I was also anxious about an event that seems to rely on rosé as the collective battery fuel. Boarding the plane at London Gatwick, I was already confronted by this phenomenon, with murmurings about rosé separating the ‘Cannes lot’ from the ‘Cannes not.’ It is quite odd to me that the experience not only centres on the consumption of rosé, but much discussion about said rosé is also a requirement – where it will be drunk, what glasses it will be drunk in, which bars serve the best, if a magnum is required at the beach club… 

At this point, I have strategies to avoid drinking. I just unapologetically don’t drink, and I can still have fun, who would have thought? It can feel exclusionary and make you feel somewhat self-conscious to not participate in the drinking, which feels almost mandatory. And it can be awkward to keep refusing. I wonder how many are avoiding the social elements of the festival, or avoiding the festival altogether, because of any of the many reasons that they might not want to drink? And what the long-term impacts are on their networks and careers? 

All thoughts of rosé aside, I was struck by a few things this year:

The shifting conversation on DEI x creativity

Two years ago, DEI felt central to programming, both official and unofficial. Two years on and against shifting DEI discourse, there is a different sentiment to the conversation.

Adrianne Smith, founder of the Cannes Can: Diversity Collective spoke powerfully on the official programme, with encouraging words, “Don’t believe the hype – DEI will never DIE.” Attending this straight after Kantar’s inclusivity panel breakfast, the message from both was clear. DEI shows up time and time again as being of high importance to millennials, and of critical importance to Gen Z.

Meghan Bartley of GLAAD talked about the ‘what’ behind the ‘why’. When representation of LGBTQIA+ identities are normalised in marketing, there is a reduction in discriminatory acts against LGBTQIA+ communities. Beyond acceptance, this is ultimately what Gen Z are standing for.

Gabb Morales, a Gen Z, Brazilian content creator, talked about the extensive research that is being done by the Gen Z creator community to validate the inclusivity of brands ahead of any partnerships – and that this ‘vetting’ is intensifying by the day. 

The data and statistics are unequivocal (see Kantar, Deloitte, and Microsoft Advertising for reference points), and as the mother of a Gen Alpha, I think we know where this trend is going.

So I am confused… for an industry that is so unashamedly obsessed with youth, how is this a conversation that remains literally and metaphorically on the fringes?

The sight of inclusion

Walking up and down the Croisette (the beach promenade for those yet to visit Cannes), it was hard not to feel a transformed difference from even a couple of years ago. Visible representation is at an all-time high, with multiple programmes and schemes focusing on creating equitable access.

BlackOut 2024, a programme led by Cephas Williams, brought around 70 Black creatives to the festival. And Cannes Lions’ official Equity, Representation and Accessibility programme, introduced under the leadership of Frank Starling, Cannes Lions’ VP Chief DEI officer, backed €1m in Festival passes for underrepresented and underserved communities. It is initiatives like these that are needed to bring new voices into the conversations at Cannes, and to break the systems and structures that continue the industry’s inequities.

In gathering some qualitative intelligence (mainly in queues), I picked up that people were feeling the inclusivity of the spaces, they were getting access to the discussions that mattered and they were feeling inspired by their craft.

With good progress on representation and positive reports on inclusion, the next element to be tackled is the equitability of experience. Cannes operates on multiple tiers, from curated content to yachts and private islands, and everything in between. I have a feeling that the spaces where representation has been boosted may not be the same spaces where the people in power are having their business conversations.

What surprised me

My biggest surprise came not from a piece of creative, but from a theme that I didn’t have on my bingo card coming to Cannes. There is a significant drive (no pun intended) to inspire women into roles in motorsport. As such an exclusive, expensive, and masculine-coded sport, this really caught my interest. At The Unmistakables, we are often in conversation about how to shift the gender dynamics of traditionally masculine industries. I personally love examples where those with the biggest distance to travel actually take the leaps and show what’s possible. It really doesn’t leave any excuse for those for whom change is in easier reach.

From an impromptu discussion with Pilar Harris, Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for Formula 1, followed by the Financial Times lunch at the Contagious Villa in partnership with Jessica Hawkins and Aston Martin, it is clear that there is a significant focus on lowering the financial barriers to entry as well as attracting women into this traditionally male-dominated space. 

The work that is being done in these spaces is effective because it’s systemic, structural, and thought through from the inside-out. It starts with the programmes, pay schemes and development that can create a viable career path, which can then be translated into compelling marketing and branding. This thinking aligns with The Unmistakables’ inside-out inclusion model and it was inspirational to hear this being brought to life in such an authentic way by an iconic brand. I’d say the message to others is, put your foot on the gas! 

As I head back to my version of normality, I’ve concluded that this is an exciting place to be. I see my newcomer-ness as a strength that brings objectivity to the discussion and I do believe that any industry can drink too much of its own champagne/rosé. I, for one, am happy to be the non-drinker in that space.


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