by Marco Ruckenbrod
The history of the French coastal city of Cannes – or rather the ‘Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity’ – is a story of lions. The world-famous festival first got underway in 1954 in the lagoon city of Venice. Inspired by Venice’s International Film Festival, it was initially a purely promotional film festival. The city of Venice still plays a defining role for Cannes today. After all, the statue of the winged lion on the Piazza San Marco is still a symbol of the coveted trophies that have been awarded annually in Cannes on the Côte d’Azur to the crème de la crème of the international creative scene since 1984. Born as an advertising film festival, Cannes was extremely focused in its orientation in its early years. At the time, the Screen Advertising World Association was concerned with the promotion of advertising film. At the festival premiere in 1954, a total of 187 spots from 14 countries were submitted. The only distinction made was the type of film: feature film or television spot. There were two categories, so to speak. C’est tout.
Since then, the festival has evolved impressively, adding numerous new categories – new Lions – over the decades. The spectrum of award-winning creative works has thus steadily expanded. A striking step of change finally took place in 1994. The ‘International Advertising Film Festival’ was renamed the ‘International Advertising Festival’. The word ‘film’ was dropped from the name to better reflect the multifaceted media landscape. Now called the ‘International Festival of Creativity’, Cannes is thinking bigger and further than ever before. At this year’s edition, a staggering 29,074 works were submitted from 90 countries – and these are now awarded in 28 Lion categories.
For several years now, we’ve been seeing a shift in communications – across almost all categories: Purpose is riding high. Brands of all categories and colors no longer speak exclusively about themselves, their products and services. Instead, they tell stories of deeper meaning. For society. For the planet. In doing so, they give themselves a role that goes beyond profit alone. This ‘purpose-driven’ communication is sometimes more serious and convincing, sometimes more superficial and untrustworthy. But the trend is clear – and has continued, and at times intensified, at Cannes 2021. Numerous entries are tackling big and moving issues that put the spotlight on social change.
This year, the festival has now introduced the ‘Creative Business Transformation Lions’ category. The new Lion category is designed to reward work that ‘celebrates the creativity that drives businesses forward – creative thinking that changes how businesses organize themselves, how people work and how customers engage with them’. A category that almost makes you ask: Why only now? A lion that was long overdue. And probably a lion whose importance will increase in the years to come. The first Grand Prix winner in this new category is French retail giant Carrefour with ‘Black Supermarket’, developed by Marcel Paris. A great idea that shows how business-transforming creativity can be.
But it is now about much more than business and profit. Creativity can do more, creativity must do more. The Cannes Festival has established the category ‘Good’ especially for this – for ideas that ‘go beyond brand purpose to use creative communications to shift culture, create change and positively impact the world’. It’s about creative ideas that have a real impact on our society. Ideas that change the world. There have long been enough impressive examples of this. This year’s Cannes winners such as ‘The Uncensored Library’ by DDB Berlin for Reporters without Borders, ‘Meltdown Flags’ by Serviceplan Munich for Meter or ‘Courage is Beautiful’ by Ogilvy UK/Canada for Dove are all cases that go far beyond mere brand purpose communication. Rather, they are a symbol of creativity that has the power to change society in the long term. Or at least to formulate such a claim. By the way: all three of the above-mentioned cases won many Lions, but had to give way to others in the ‘Good’ category. Among many others, outstanding works such as ‘I am’ on the topic of gender identity by VMLY&R Sao Paulo for Starbucks (Grand Prix in Glass: The Lion for Change), ‘The 2030 Calculator’ for Doconomy (Grand Prix in Sustainable Development Goals Lion) or ‘#StillSpeakingUpDeepTruth’ by Publicis Mexico/Latvia for Reporters Without Borders (Grand Prix for Good) were awarded.
All these works show impressively: creativity has the power to change our world. And for the better. In this sense: Creativity Unlimited.