Cannes is back! (Or is it?)

Ad Age Amp leaders weigh in on Cannes 2022's focus on sustainability; DE&I; data, tech and innovation; talent; and brand creativity and effectiveness.

Cannes is back! (Or is it?)

This week, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity returns with its first in-person event following two years of virtual ceremonies. And, much like the rest of us, the festival is reemerging a little differently than its pre-pandemic self. The 2022 edition will focus in no small part on that change and upheaval and will feature the first-ever meeting of its Global Growth Councils for Progress, whose goal will be to explore the pressing issues facing the industry and agree on collective action. The week-long festival will be centered around five “priority areas” facing the industry: sustainability; diversity, equity and inclusion; data, tech and innovation; talent; and brand creativity and effectiveness.

For this month’s spotlight, we asked leaders from the Amp community to share their thoughts on Cannes in 2022 and their perspectives on the vital issues facing the ad world.


Eileen ZahoEileen Zhao,
Fred & Farid, Los Angeles

“Having lived the past two-plus years in the pandemic has allowed us to see what the world could be like when we’re all forced to drive less, travel less and waste less,” said Eileen Zhao, strategic director at Fred & Farid Los Angeles. “It’s allowed our agency to reexamine how we can each personally mitigate this issue, and it’s sparked a collective reappraisal within our agency of how even the smallest actions we take can amount to a huge impact on our world.” Zhao said that personally seeing and feeling the ongoing effects of climate change—such as L.A.’s heat waves, droughts and increasing fires—has also made their team take its commitments to sustainability more seriously. “We know that addressing sustainability is key not just for our survival but for our children’s and their children’s as well,” Zhao explained. “It’s why we spend 25% of our time working with nonprofits like Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future to pay our creativity forward and help demand the change we need for our planet to survive.”

Tori PalmatierTori Palmatier,
Girl Culture Films

Others in the ad industry, like Girl Culture Films, also look to work with sustainability-minded organizations, but Tori Palmatier, the production company's general manager, notes that “with the median production budgets out there, it's very tough to fit in the initiative at the production level.” Palmatier said they’re fortunate to work with groups like Green the Bid, which help spread knowledge and access on how to incorporate more responsible practices on productions, but that “having this as a brand mandate, where agencies help manage expectations on the additional costs of this, could create a much deeper impact towards true sustainability within productions.


And while agencies, production companies and their partners keep working to make changes, they see that consumers are attentive to their adjustments. “Companies are all experiencing a shift in purchase behaviors due to consumer-led demand for brands that show an authentic commitment to sustainability and environmental consciousness,” said Beth Wade, global chief marketing officer at VMLY&R. “Sustainability is vital to our culture and employee experience, and we continue to implement programs and initiatives globally, such as working toward net-zero in operations and supply chain, renewable electricity, eliminating single-use plastics, and more.”

Data, tech and innovation

Oliver DoreOliver Dore,
Work & Co.

On the tech side, Cannes 2022 is a chance to discuss issues that took center stage as the world worked remotely. “One big topic is how to strategize for the way accelerated digitization is heightening brands' responsibility to safeguard user data against emerging threats, and implement data privacy regulations like GDPR,” said Oliver Dore, technology partner at Work & Co. “Another topic that generated a lot of traction during the pandemic is blockchain. While cryptocurrency and NFTs may have vocal supporters and detractors at this time, the possibilities associated with underlying blockchain technology are wide-ranging.”

Douglas BrundageDouglas Brundage,

“Our main interest is in how much do any of these issues actually affect purchase, not intent, and brand loyalty,” said Douglas Brundage, founder at Kingsland. “To us, ESG and DE&I are extremely important, and we believe they should be considered table stakes in an age of mass environmental destruction and racial, socioeconomic and gender inequality. However, we see a disconnect between what consumers self-report as their values and what they spend their money on in real life.” Brundage posited that if DE&I and ESG values are not woven into the fabric of a brand's core product and supply chain, perhaps brands shouldn’t spend so much time publicly patting themselves on the back. Data and technology, however, could be the solution for brands who aren’t ready to fully tout their achievements on social issues. “This has been and will remain top of mind for us at Kingsland, as we believe we cannot service our clients to the best of our ability without a fundamental understanding of the realities of how their target customers spend money—not just tweet or virtue signal.”

Jeff FagelJeff Fagel, MadHive

For companies like enterprise software platform MadHive, the discussions at Cannes are a way to promote the work they’ve been doing mostly under the radar. “Core to our DNA is moving the TV advertising industry forward, pushing boundaries and being the opposite of boring,” said MadHive CMO Jeff Fagel. “Our purpose is to reshape TV advertising with humanity, transparency and technology, and we expect the conversation around ad-supported streaming TV advertising to include how the industry equips clients with the data and technology solutions to transform television advertising and bring premium media to the industry in a way they’ve never seen before.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion

Palmatier of Girl Culture Films said they’re definitely seeing more underrepresented talent on brand marketing teams, on agency teams and within the production, post-production and music vendors. “However, there are still often issues of checking boxes and tokenism,” she said, cautioning against performative acts over impactful ones. “There are still issues of having those voices in the room, but not meeting them with true empowerment, access and support. From a production point of view, and as a roster of entirely underrepresented talent, we feel the impact of the very low conversion rate from being bid for projects to actually being trusted with the job and snagging the award.”

But bottom line, a business without a focus on DE&I cannot be successful in a talent-based industry. “If we aren’t putting talent and DE&I at the center of our work, our businesses, and our culture every day, we will fail,” said VMLY&R’s Wade. “Moving forward, it is critical for agencies and brands to continue their concentrated effort to attract and retain BIPOC talent and to partner with clients who will help transform their businesses and bring diversity, equity and inclusion to the forefront of organizational evolution.”


Sam ZisesSam Zises,
[L]earned Media

“Talent has and always will be the most important and differentiating factor for success in our industry,” said Sam Zises, CEO at [L]earned Media. “Regardless of all the programmatic technologies and SaaS tools with sophisticated AI, without the right person or team in place, none of it will be utilized to its full potential.”

Zises saw this play out in two ways during the pandemic. “With remote work, geography was immediately removed as a barrier for accessing and hiring the right talent, and the idea of ‘moonlighting’ a practice—by which creative professionals work after hours on various side hustles or freelance projects—became less frowned upon,” he said. “What these two changes mean, in practice, is that finding and hiring the right talent for the job is now easier than ever. It’s a win-win-win for all stakeholders, from clients to agencies to talent, and we don’t see this changing anytime soon.”

Brand creativity and effectiveness

Jamie FalkowskiJamie Falkowski,
Day One Agency

“We spend much of our time shaping creative ideas through a lens of curiosity,” said Jamie Falkowski, partner and chief creative officer at Day One Agency. “Our mission is to move the world by stopping it in its scroll with stories that build community and brand love, and drive a cultural connection that lasts.”

Leslie SimsLeslie Sims,
Deloitte Digital

“The conversation around creativity as critical to driving business is an important one,” said Leslie Sims, U.S. chief creative officer at Deloitte Digital, while noting that businesses have increasingly focused on driving efficient growth, which comes at the expense of creativity. “In fact, Deloitte Digital partnered with Lions and released a Creative Business Transformation study in advance of the festival to encourage marketing executives to supercharge business transformation through creativity, which is what the next era of business success will rely on.”

The relevance and evolution of Cannes

While this year’s event is centered around industry change, agencies and creatives are split on general sentiment toward the festival, its place in today’s world and whether those efforts to evolve are coming soon enough.

Brett ChannerBrett Channer,
Mass Minority

“I am a fan of what Cannes was,” said Brett Channer, CEO of Mass Minority. “But the world is changing, and Cannes has not. At least not enough. Today the true source of relevant, breakthrough creativity in advertising starts with attracting and influencing the individual, not the masses. The thesis of Cannes going forward needs to be leading the way in this new reality.”

And while having a presence on the ground at panels and discussions may be a negligible line item in the budgets at big agencies, it doesn’t make sense for everyone. “We are not attending Cannes,” said Kingsland’s Brundage. “The investment is just not worth it as a small independent agency, and there's a perception that it has become increasingly pay-to-play.”

Others are looking forward to the chance to convene in person again and celebrate the year’s creative work. “The ability to see the work and its talented creators live is a wonderful way to set your sights on the future,” said VMLY&R’s Wade. Part of the draw of Cannes for creatives is the chance to be immersed in the creativity it honors, and among the creators behind it. “We all are cross pollinating our skill sets more and more, so we’re keen to see and be inspired by the best-of-the-best creative solves people have,” said Deloitte Digital’s Sims. “Personally, I'm preparing for the street fight of emotions I always experience at Cannes: excitement, panic, elation, anxiety, joy, horror, grief—and a huge dose of envy.”

This year’s goal of confronting and solving some of the industry’s biggest challenges is likely a theme we will continue to see in future years—and the need to continually evolve is something most can agree on. “The return to an in-person Cannes Lions brings with it new themes related to how the COVID pandemic accelerated brands’ digitization of customer-facing touchpoints, supply-chain interactions and internal operations,” said Work & Co’s Dore. “While these advancements may have been born from necessity, the pace of evolution is here to stay.”