Postcards from Cannes, the world’s biggest playground for creativity

Beyond the beach and booze, is there a more thoughtful side to the Cannes Lions Festival?


If you have anything to do with brands, marketing or advertising, your social media feeds may have recently been filled with snaps of rosé, yachts and people drinking rosé on yachts. The occasion? The annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

After years of ennui (or jealousy) at watching others live it up on the French Riviera, I decided to check out the festival for myself. I wanted to find out how much creativity was being applied to solve social challenges rather than just sell more stuff. So I went on a daily scavenger hunt all over Cannes looking for creatives and creativity making a difference on issues like sustainability, social justice, gender and wellbeing.

What did I find?

Each day, there were enough events to keep the curious, thoughtful creative busy–from talks on how search algorithms could help build empathy for refugees, to workshops using service design to improve the democratic process, to evening soirées inviting revellers to step away from the hyped-up parties and reflect on our place in the universe by quietly looking through a telescope on the beach.

This year, a UN Sustainable Development Goals award was added to the list of Cannes Lions gongs handed out. It joins the Glass award, given for “conscious representation of gender in advertising,” as well as a general Grand Prix for Good. You can see all the winners here.

Who did I meet?

The best part of each day was meeting movers and shakers with something to say about how creativity will change the world. Here’s what a few of them told me:


cannes thoughtful 2018

Sir John Hegarty, founder of BBH, writer of books, legendary ad man, and knight of the realm

“I describe creativity as an expression of self. What do you believe in, what do you want to do, how do you want to use this wonderful gift you’ve been given? I think creative people have always operated at best with their conscience.”

thoughtful cannes 2018

Cristina Mittermeier, acclaimed National Geographic Magazine photographer

“We’re going to go from a planet where extractive industries are the mode of making money, to a planet in which creativity is going to be the driving force. We’re living in a moment when creativity is not just the job opportunity of the future, it’s the thing that’s going to define the future.”

thoughtful cannes 2018

Laura Jordan Bambach, chief creative officer at Mr. President, president of D&AD, and co-founder of SheSays

“Brands can change at a pace that governments can’t. They have much more freedom to stand for what the majority believes silently in the face of a lot of vocal opposition. It’s the place that you can make the most change.”

thoughtful cannes 2018

Frances Simpson-Allen, UN Secretary-General youth envoy

“Creatives are like the athletes of coming up with new ideas, breaking open problems to find new solutions. That’s exactly the mindset and attitude we need to make the world a better place.”


thoughtful cannes 2018

Katy Alonzo, group strategy director at Droga5

“People look at creativity in a commercial context as a barometer for what we value as a culture. I don’t think advertising creates culture, but reinforces it. You can reinforce negative cultural assumptions, or you can reinforce progress.”

thoughtful cannes 2018

Joumana Mattar, Manel Abella, Elodie Rousselot and Cristina Gómez Prada from Fjord Accenture Interactive

“We have new tools to empathise and different ways to frame problems through systems thinking. Creativity will change the world by bringing more empathy and thinking of things holistically.”

thoughtful cannes 2018

Charlotte Cramer, co-founder of CRACK + CIDER

“We have this swathe of creative people who are talented at solving problems and who want to solve social problems, and organisations who recognise that the future of their business will be determined by their ability to not only drive profits but also be socially conscious. When those come together, we’ll see a huge shift in the way our world operates.”

thoughtful cannes 2018

Enmanuel Candelario, co-founder of Peace Poets

“Creativity will change the world when people become aware of the fact that we all have creative power. We need to recognise creativity in all human beings and all communities. Creativity is our medicine, and the more medicine we have the quicker we will heal.”

Looking at all the thoughtful people, places and things I found charted on this custom Google map is pretty satisfying. The role of commercial creativity in tackling social challenges is still a small part of the conversation at Cannes, but the energy and enthusiasm around it is growing. I hope to see no less talk, and even more action, next year.

This scene off the shore of Google’s closing night Pride Beach Party sums up how I felt after a week of meeting, greeting, searching, finding and (naturally) beaching and boozing. Can’t wait to do it all again next time. À la prochaine, Cannes!

thoughtful cannes 2018