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Cannes Lions 2024: A Week of Inspiration, Learning and Connections

My first experience at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity was nothing short of transformative. Imagine the energy of a music festival combined with the intellectual stimulation of an academic conference, all set against the backdrop of the stunning French Riviera. Major agencies, brands, tech and social media companies build pop-up activations along the beach—creating an atmosphere buzzing with creativity and innovation.

The days were filled with thought-provoking panels and talks, while the nights transformed into parties and large productions. Despite the exhausting schedule, I found it to be the most amazing and inspiring work event of my career. The Ad Council is not only relevant but deeply respected and loved in the industry, and it was heartening to see our work celebrated on such a grand stage.

A Big Year for the Ad Council
This was a significant year for the Ad Council at Cannes Lions, with 21 panels and activations on topics including mental health, gun violence and diversity and inclusion. Our presence showcased the depth and breadth of our initiatives and the collaborative spirit we foster with top industry leaders. We spoke on some pretty big stages as well, including Stagwell Sport Beach, Influential, The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge, Whalar House, Inkwell Beach, IPG Common Ground, Inkwell Beach, Gun Safety Alliance, Uber Villa, Hearst House, Microsoft Beach, Alliance for Inclusive Marketing and more.

Thought Provoking Panel Discussions
The sheer number of panels this year marked a significant milestone for the Ad Council. In our biggest Cannes presence to date, we shared how we’re tackling the most pressing issues in America during a critical moment in our country’s history.

One of our panels that particularly inspired me was What CMOs Need to Know about the Mental Health Crisis” at Stagwell Sport Beach. The discussion emphasized the importance of brands addressing internal mental health practices before advocating externally, and leveraging cultural influence to raise awareness. Former NFL athlete and “I Am Athlete” podcast host Brandon Marshall passionately stated, “We need to check in with our people and have real conversations. Let people cry. Let people be vulnerable. Embrace them.”

Another memorable session was the Ad Council and Microsoft co-sponsored Equity Brunch at the Microsoft Beach House. This year’s discussion focused on “Reframing Mental Health Together” and was moderated by Ad Council President and CEO Lisa Sherman. They focused on advancing equitable conversations around mental health through advertising and public service messaging. Lisa highlighted, “Normalizing mental health as an everyday priority can improve outcomes for everyone."

I also had the opportunity to attend the Black Executives CMO Alliance Future Leaders panel at Medialink focused on inclusive excellence. Warren Cochrane at Nike introduced a proprietary tool they built called “Blindspot DEI,” designed to identify and address gaps in campaign representation. This session underscored the importance of inclusive intelligence and data sets for training AI tools.

The Association of National Advertisers hosted a lunch on their yacht to discuss the findings in their 2023 programmatic benchmark survey. The panel discussed the need for new industry metrics and benchmarks, emphasizing the need for transparency in programmatic media buying and the importance of quality inventory over cost-cutting. David Kohl, chief executive officer of Symitri and TRUSTX highlighted, "You don’t buy ads to be cheap, you buy them to spark behavior. Brands need to focus more on output and how much their marketing produces.”

Another great highlight was celebrating Smokey Bear's 80th birthday with FCB, our long-time agency partners, where we toasted to Smokey’s enduring legacy in reducing unwanted human-caused wildfires and reflected on the impact of our collaboration over the years.

My Speaking Engagements
Speaking on panels and representing the Ad Council at Cannes was a career highlight for me. It was both an honor and a big responsibility to share our mission and why our work is so important.

My first panel, “Inclusive Marketing in the Age of AI,” was at Inkwell Beach. This panel focused on the intersection of AI, wellbeing, inclusion and equity in marketing. I discussed the critical partnership between humans and AI, emphasizing that any AI output must start and end with humans. I highlighted the importance of including the communities you’re trying to reach in the data sets, the prompt engineering and the creative review process. Additionally, I emphasized that we are all learning as an industry and encouraged the audience to share best practices so we can all do better.

At the Uber Villa, we explored how innovative technologies are transforming our approach to global challenges in a panel titled “Driving Connectivity for Global Impact.” I discussed how the Ad Council brings the best partners to the table when experimenting with new technology or partnering with an emerging platform. For instance, our recent Web-based AR activation with Feeding America involved partnering with leading AR platform, Niantic 8th Wall and leading AR developer, Sawhorse Productions. I shared why we are investing in AR as a technology with significant future impact, noting that an estimated 7.1 billion people will experience AR technology this year—with AR advertising projected to grow to $6.68 billion by 2025. I also touched on Roblox as an important area of focus for the Ad Council, highlighting that it reaches over 70 million daily users who spend an average of 2.5 hours per day on the platform, making it an ample place to connect people to causes.

Later in the week, I had a sit-down interview with Natalia Vasilyeva, head of marketing at Anzu, to discuss harnessing the power of gaming to drive social impact. I focused on why gaming is an ideal platform for nonprofits, the power of the gaming community, and the importance of having custom-made gaming creative. According to the recent ESA report, 212.6 million Americans play video games, with 96% finding games beneficial for their mental health. We partnered with Anzu for our Drug-Impaired Driving Prevention campaign which reached over 6.5 million impressions with an impressive video completion rate of 82.62%, showcasing the effectiveness of tailored gaming content.

I rounded out my speaking engagements by honoring my favorite steward of the forest, Smokey Bear, and discussing his decades-long journey in wildfire prevention. Smokey was a memorable part of my childhood and remains a constant today, since I live in California and have experienced the threat of wildfires firsthand.

The Spontaneity and Magic of Cannes
One of the most magical aspects of Cannes is the spontaneity and serendipity that comes with the event. I found myself meeting life mentors and industry icons like Peloton instructors Robin Arzon, Ally Love and Leanne Hainsby, who have been instrumental in my personal fitness journey and inspired me during challenging days. I also had the chance to meet Elaine Welteroth, a multidisciplinary leader I've long admired, who recently launched birthFUND, a nonprofit focused on supporting maternal health initiatives for Black women. In addition, I had in-person meetings with partners we are currently building with. A Google executive led me through their AI product roadmap, and I was able to meet my partners at Dentsu and Flowcode for the first time, resulting in a brainstorm session dreaming up new possibilities for our current collaborations.

Ad Council’s Big Event with Yahoo and The New York Times
Every year, we host one big event for Ad Council’s board and leadership council members and partners. This “Cocktails and Conversations” event is part of an eight-year partnership with The New York Times, where we discussed the economy, the upcoming U.S. election and the toll these issues take on society. It was a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion about the collective action needed for a more prosperous future.

Cannes Lions Awards Ceremony
The culmination of this inspiring week was viewing the work in the Pallais and attending the Cannes Lions awards ceremony. The celebration of creativity and innovation was palpable, and a powerful reminder of why we do the work we do. Seeing the best work in our industry honored on such a grand stage was incredibly inspiring. Our long-time partner, Cindy Gallop, presented the Social Impact Lion and said, “Driving social impact is good for business,” which deeply resonated with me. The award went to AKQA for their "Pink Chip" campaign, which allows investors to see how investing in women is better for their bottom line—boosting their returns while also supporting female leaders. I was also moved by Dove's "When Did 10 Stop Looking Like 10?" campaign for the powerful imagery and impactful execution. Created by Ogilvy, it poignantly highlights the premature aging pressures on young girls, critiquing societal beauty standards and urging us to let children be children. Witnessing agencies receive recognition was a fitting end to a week filled with learning, inspiration and new connections.

Final Thoughts
Reflecting on my week at Cannes, I am filled with gratitude and inspiration. The opportunity to connect with industry leaders, share the Ad Council’s mission, and learn from the best in the business was truly invaluable. This experience has not only enriched my professional journey, but also reinforced the importance of our work in creating impactful and inclusive marketing. As I look ahead, I am excited to implement the insights and ideas gained at Cannes, continuing to drive positive change and innovation at the Ad Council.

For more on our time at Cannes, visit our website. To view photos and moments from the event, check out our Instagram highlights.


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