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The change this year in Cannes was visible, but is it simply what advertising is so good at: overpromises and sustainable fireworks without any real impact?

Source: © Yacht Charter FleetYacht Charter Fleet The change this year in Cannes was visible, but is it simply what advertising is so good at: overpromises and sustainable fireworks without any real impact?

I’ve been coming to Cannes since I was a young, hopeful copywriter, I’ve judged in Cannes and the work has truly changed.

Just a decade ago, the awards (the Lions) that focused on sustainability could be counted on max two hands. Today, you can count the highest awards (the Grand Prix winners) focused on sustainability on two hands and, moreover, the change is visible across hundreds of awarded works across metals and shortlists.

The content across the Festival and its fringe events also had a strong focus on sustainability, which is great to see. Yet, I still believe we need to invite more voices around the table. Greenpeace protested this year at Cannes; I rather want to invite them to a cup of organic herbal tea.

For the first time, we got Cannes and many of the venues to open up and welcome all to an Open House for Good (Thank you); next year, we’ll make sure more take up the invite.

Lack of education and naïve bandwagoning

That said, there’s sadly still hard work ahead. The lack of knowledge and education across the industry from brand to agency-side is concerning, as pinpointed by reports by WFA and Act Responsible/Nielsen.

It’s like a lot of the winning work is only skimming the surface of the problem rather than fully engaging and committing. The very campaign-like nature of advertising looking for short-term results clashes with the long-term nature of, for example, changing behaviours.

Usually, it takes three to six to six months for a new habit to kick in – ask any smoker.

Another issue I witness across campaigns is the bandwagon-like focus on popular issues like ocean plastics or whatever else is hitting. It’s a naïve and gutless approach where marketers trying to engage on these issues look to data and social listening to see what the topic of the day is. It’s as uninteresting as a parrot at a dinner party repeating what everybody else is saying.

Your brand can be a mirror of society – or it can move society. I don’t have to tell you what builds brand fame and legacy. Many issues still go unnoticed or lack more support and we seriously need a stringent focus on the Global South – we all share this beautiful blue planet and its destiny.

A shared effort

This is a shared effort as an industry – every time one brand or campaign fails, it falls back on all of us, turning people sceptical towards what is so critical: sustainable change at scale.

And who can blame them? Take my nieces (11 and 18 years old), all they’ve witnessed in their lifetime is companies being guilty of environmental degradation and social injustice and all they hear from those very same companies are: look at us, look how good we are!

The heat is on from the Greenpeace protest at Cannes to concerned citizens and legislative pressure. If there was a Doomsday Clock for advertising, it would probably be ticking fast from 100 to 50 seconds to midnight—the closest ever to an apocalypse. You can make your work count.

Let’s get this right together, here are a few hacks based on this year’s Grand Prix winners.

  • Don’t waste your money preaching to the converted!

    Billions of dollars of media and advertising money are lost because campaigns are targeting the people who are already agreeing with the issue. Take the much-awarded anti-gun commercial, The Lost Class.

    Do you really think it’s going to convince any hard-headed anti-gun folks in the Midwest? Or think about most climate campaigning? Be innovative in your media choice and creative strategy – target the others instead of the Patagonia-wearing climate clan. You don’t need to be a Black Lives Matter activist to embrace the usefulness of Google’s Real Tone technology, which introduces new software to its camera phones to better capture darker skin tones in photos.

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The Missing Chapter, P&> Whisper; Agency: Leo Burnett, Mumbai