There’s no need to cancel Cannes — just make it count

There’s no need to cancel Cannes — just make it count
Cannes Lions 2023 (Credit: Marian Brannelly/Cannes Lions)

The annual festival has drawn criticisms for its carbon impact, but we can all play a part to ensure this is our most ‘responsible’ Cannes Lions yet.

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is once again upon us and I, for one, appreciate that it is a privilege to be able to attend. To be among some of the greatest names in the industry, to meet as a global community and to be part of the most stimulating conversations of the year means it’s an unmissable date in my calendar.

While inside the Palais there’s a wealth of absorbing talks and award-worthy work from around the world, outside there’s the hustle for the next project or the opportunity to deepen existing partnerships in and around the Croisette. Wherever you are, it’s a hard ticket to pass up when strategic intelligence and commercial business opportunities are to be had.

That said, as someone whose focus is to help marketing be responsible, I’m also mindful that this event is often under scrutiny. With the global travel emissions involved, alongside the production efforts to stage such an event, the carbon impact is immense.

Cannes Lions have become a regular target of protest for climate activists. But, by the same token, an international forum that brings together the entire advertising community can also act as a catalyst for progress.

The event has always brought to the fore critical topics that marketers need to be engaging with — be that when Al Gore united the creative industry in 2006 on climate change; Cannes Lions’ partnership with the Geena Davis Institute in 2015 and the launch of the Glass Lion; or the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals Lion in 2018 in partnership with the United Nations.

If you look at today’s award categories and the entry criteria, a lot has also been done to modernise the event for people, planet and purpose. Notably, Ad Net Zero worked with Cannes Lions this year to introduce voluntary sustainability questions across all awards.

So, should we “cancel” Cannes? Absolutely not. However, I’ve given some thought as to how we can all contribute to having the most “responsible” Cannes Lions yet.

The right mindset

“Take only pictures, leave only footprints” is the mantra of the outdoors. You can’t quite map that on to Cannes Lions, but what we can do is be aware of our impact in travelling to any conference and mitigate it as far as possible.

There are ways to do that in literal terms, including changing our travel habits and offsetting our emissions. But there are other, less tangible ways that involve the things we learn, the best practice we promote, the contacts we make and the good we can do.

The hot topics for 2024 will be AI, sustainability, diversity, inclusion and belonging, responsible data usage and supply chains, creative cut-through and innovation. Go with a blank action plan ready to be populated with everything you can take back and integrate into your business that will make you the next responsible marketer to watch.

How you spend your time

The allure of Cannes and an easy face-to-face meet-up in our increasingly virtual world make it easy to fill your diary with meetings you could be having back home — but I’d advise to be mindful of this.

I’m lucky enough to work with people on all continents, so the priority for me is to spend time with those I genuinely can’t see at home. Let’s face it: nothing beats real-life human connection — it’s why business travel still prevails. So my rule will be to spend my time with the people that help me eliminate the need for a separate future business trip.

Also, take the time to meet new suppliers. I have spoken to so many people who have agendas crammed with people they already do business with. But Cannes Lions can be about discovering the emerging players whose companies’ destiny can hinge on the big break they secure while at the event.

Conferences are a huge outlay for a small supplier, so engage them for a pilot project or test-and-learn opportunity. Don’t leave them footing the bill for lavish entertaining, only to ghost them later. Where possible, throw them an opportunity where a mutual gain can be found. A small investment for a big advertiser or publisher can be a huge win for a smaller business.

See the work

With so many categories now focused on sustainability, inclusion and making advertising a force for good, make sure you have time to see the work.

There are multiple tours on offer: Responsible Marketing Agency is hosting several ones skewed to these topics, while Cannes Lions are throwing open their doors this year for non-pass-holders to get inside the Palais at select times.

French not-for-profit Act Responsible is also taking over the Debussy hall in the Palais with a dedicated area for “great ads for good”. Here, you can immerse yourself in some of the best examples of “for good” work and learn more from change-makers in the industry through a series of talks.

Give back

Where you can, travel by rail or car pool. For those who fly, it is easy to offset — at minimum — your climate impact through a not-for-profit site like Atmosfair, which calculates the emissions of your flights and allows you to make a commensurate donation to climate protection projects. London to Nice and back comes to around €33 per person, so don’t hesitate to pay for your privilege to travel.

Branded swag is a given across trade events, but it is often considered disposable. In fact, Cannes Lions’ Green Guide suggests that 80% of merchandise is discarded.  Where you are considering providing swag, use sustainable suppliers and offer items that provide utility well beyond the event. Or, better still, consider offering a charitable donation alternative.

If you’re a delegate collecting items, only pick up what you need. My husband relishes the notebooks our industry offers and I happily grab him one as I know he will use it. My mum is still wearing a branded glasses chain two years later. When done well, swag can provide utility and reinforce brand values without being wasteful.

Most importantly, though, pay it forward. The next generation in the industry — those who couldn’t travel or lack the support from their companies to do so — shouldn’t miss out. Take the time to write up your findings and spread the knowledge you uncovered.

The Cannes Lions festival is still the pinnacle event of the advertising calendar — a chance to meet up with old friends and make new connections while immersing ourselves in the very best work and conversations our industry has to offer. For those of you lucky enough to be there this year, it would be great to meet up — drop me a line!

Hannah Mirza is founder and CEO of Responsible Marketing Agency

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