Cannes: A force of hope we must take home with us

Barry Lowenthal wraps up the Cannes madness with his key observations from this year's festival.

I am very fortunate I work in advertising. I work in an industry that celebrates creativity and understands that to be truly creative we need safe spaces that allow ideas to breathe and flourish, that ideas only become truly great through collaboration and that through diversity and inclusion we will reach our creative potential. At many of those truths, we fail. Sometime we fail miserably.

At many of our organizations, bullies are still in power. There are turf wars between agencies and departments, and very few women and people of color are in power. At Cannes this year, I heard the defiant roar of hope. And that hope gives me great confidence that creativity will prevail. I truly believe it’s what we all want.

I also think there is a foundational belief that we all have a responsibility for the messages we create and distribute. I think the people in our industry believe that it is criminal to use hate speech and it’s criminal to use messages that make us feel worse about ourselves.

In Cannes this year, I saw hope and passion and excitement. I saw powerful women talk about ideas, strength, determination and leadership. I saw men stand alongside these women and denounce unfairness, and I saw kids who survived the Parkland shootings share their stories and the charities they started to make the world better. One of the teens said (and I’m paraphrasing), "people say the youth are the future, but that’s not true, we’re the present."  That gives me tremendous hope.

I’ve only been to a few Cannes Lions festivals, but every time I return home I feel grateful for working in this industry. I think at some point in everyone’s career, the people you help along the way become more important than the work you do. I think I’ve reached that point in my career. Cannes for me is a celebration of the most amazing creativity and ideas. But it’s much more. The festival is celebration of the power of creativity to change minds for good. It’s the power of creativity to create safe spaces where earth shattering ideas can thrive and it’s about the good people that want to see the world change for better. Cannes is as much about the people that make the work as it is about the work itself.

We celebrated much of the work on the main stages in the Palais and that included some of the biggest companies in the world. Samsung showed a terrific app that diagnoses dyslexia, Google showed an app that helped Syrian refugees, the UN debuted a program to help the starving in Africa, Cover Girl showed how they are reimaging femininity, the new Miss America Pageant talked about why they are discarding swimsuits, Suntrust talked about the power that comes with financial confidence, Jen Sey from Levis talked about the power that comes when you speak out about sexual assault, Forsman (a fantastic Swedish agency) talked about being human, Tencent talked about the responsibilities that come with connecting 1B people, and Apple talked about how kind values drives ideas. Angela Ahrendts, when asked what she’d say to young girls, had this message: ‘To thine own self be true and don’t ever let anyone tell you, you can’t, because you can."

The cultural context that exists in America, and much the world, is polluted. We shoot our young, we bully the less powerful, and revel in our hate. But I work in an industry that believes we all have a responsibility for the messages we make. I spent the last three hours of my last day in Cannes dancing at the pride celebration at Google Beach and celebrating the power of creativity and diversity with lots of advertising people that seem to be committed to kindness.

I hope we can all take these feelings back with us and use them for good.

Barry Lowenthal is CEO of The Media Kitchen. 

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