DEI: The key to success at Cannes

A Creative Equals event broke down the reasons why DEI was the big winner at Cannes Lions

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


Advocates of diversity and inclusion in the advertising industry have been citing better, more impactful, culturally relevant work as just one of the multitude of reasons as to why DEI is essential. When looking at award winning work Cannes Lions it's clear to see this theory in action. This year's clutch of winners underlined that inclusive campaigns are able to resonate most with audiences and as a result took home Grand Prixs and Titanium Lions in abundance. 

As Creative Equals CEO and Founder Ali Hanan explained:  “It is clear that diversity and inclusion is a driver of creative excellence.”  

At a recent ‘Is DEI smashing it at Cannes?’ webinar, the Creative Equals team unpicked the reasons why campaigns with diversity and inclusion at the core created the most waves at this year’s festival of creativity. 

It is clear that diversity and inclusion is a driver of creative excellence.

Ali Hanan, CEO at Creative Equals

Cannes creative trends

At this year’s Cannes Lions, a majority of winners had a social justice cause linked closely to the campaign. Be it ESG or DEI, the campaigns that had the most impact were intrinsically linked to a real-world issue. A few such issues include race and religion, refugees, sustainability and preserving culture. And while not all topics were directly diversity and inclusion-led, each one has a profound link to community.

Three out of four of the big titanium winners had DEI at the heart of the storytelling. 'Where To Settle', for Mastercard, by McCann Poland, was a platform which enabled Ukrainian refugees to check the cost of living and income opportunities in selected cities and towns in Poland. AB InBev’s Corona Extra Lime campaign partnered with local governments and industry leaders in China to provide farmers with the knowledge and tools needed to grow quality limes.

Outside of diversity and inclusion, the awards pointed to a return to humour in advertising. After the pandemic and the shift toward more meaningful work, people also want to see fun and be entertained. Humour as a trend was also reflected in WARC’s Creative Effectiveness Lions trend report. 

"Just because a subject is serious or heavy or critical doesn't mean the communication about it has to be the same. Serious can easily become boring, heavy can easily become polarizing, and critical can easily become paralyzing," explains Gaetan du Peloux, Chief Creative Officer, Marcel Paris.

Creativity driven by community

At the Creative Equals webinar, the team unpacked the reasons why creativity driven by community is so effective. The event broke down some of the most successful campaigns applying a Creative Equals framework. 

The team looked at why each brand had the right to play in the space, considered the community impact and then assessed the follow-through. They considered how the work authentically engaged with the community and suggested how brands might make their campaigns even more impactful.  

Dove is a brand that has consistently made a big impact in the diversity and inclusion space. The brand is a great example of how authentic engagement with the community can lead to award winning, impactful work. This year the ‘Turn your back’ campaign continued the tradition of Dove’s purpose-driven creativity and went on to win 8 awards in total. 

The campaign encouraged people to #TurnYourBack on the Bold Glamour filter as part of its #NoDigitalDistortion mission and sought the help of influencers to amplify the message to protect the self esteem of young girls online. The work had a massive impact through engaging the relevant online communities and reached over 1 billion people. 

The follow through was that it even drove influencer agency Gleam to condemn the bold glamour filter and update its influencer policy to protect against filters that perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards. The campaign is a stellar example of the positive impact a brand can have when it works to make change in a relevant sector. 

Using a brand’s unique resources to create cultural impact is particularly well evidenced by the Columbia Journalism Review’s (CJR) ‘Are you press worthy?’ campaign from TBWA. The campaign stemmed from the insight that Black people account for over 40% of missing people while white women account for less than a third. Yet white women make up over half of missing person news coverage. CJR created a tool where audiences were able to enter their own demographic information to see how much press coverage they might attract should they go missing. The shocking findings were able to draw attention to the bias and discrimination in journalism. CJR was able to successfully use its voice as a respected media outlet to credibly amplify the issue.

Other examples of community-driven creativity were Vanish’s Me My Autism and I by Havas London which worked to create more visibility for girls with autism by amplifying the importance of clothing to help regulate senses and the Korean National Police Agency’s Knock Knock by Cheil Worldwide. A campaign which quite literally created a brand new way of calling the police silently for sufferers of domestic abuse who could not get a safe space away from their abusers. By understanding the communities they serve to connect, these brands were able to take their various causes beyond awareness to tangible action making a real world impact. 

Diversity and inclusion was quite literally an award-winning formula at this year’s Cannes Lions. Award-winning campaigns with community and inclusion at the heart are evidence that diversity and inclusion is not only an essential for making the world better, but key to creating genre-defining work. Work which goes on to have a lasting impact in the advertising industry and beyond.