Beyond Celebration. Cannes Lions’ (Missed) Opportunity to Shape a Sustainable Future.

Advertising has the power to shape people’s perceptions, influence their choices, and drive societal change. With its vast reach and persuasive abilities, the advertising industry has a unique opportunity to drive positive change and promote sustainability. 

The efforts made by the Cannes Lions festival to promote sustainability are commendable. By donating the entry fees for the SDG awards to charities that support the United Nations Global Goals, the festival is directly contributing to vital projects worldwide. This financial support can make a tangible difference in the lives of many people and communities. It demonstrates a commitment to using the platform of Cannes Lions not only to celebrate creativity but also to create a positive impact on the world. 

The introduction of non-mandatory sustainability reporting in the submission process for all Lions awards is another significant step forward. By encouraging entrants to provide information about their CO2 emissions, the festival is raising awareness about the environmental impact of creative work. This data collection and benchmarking of best practices can help the industry identify areas for improvement and promote more sustainable production and distribution processes. 

However, while these initiatives are important, there is room for Cannes Lions to do more. As a sustainable agency, we believe that the festival should prioritize campaigns that actively contribute to behavioural change for a more sustainable world. The power of advertising lies not only in its ability to sell products but also in its capacity to shape attitudes, values, and behaviours. And right now, with the state of the planet, the second is much more important than the first. Plus, what some brands already understand very well: the latter will increasingly drive the former. 

By recognizing and celebrating campaigns that promote sustainable behaviours over traditional consumerism, Cannes Lions could inspire and influence both the industry and the general public. Therefore, we hope that sustainability does not remain a category, but becomes an important aspect in judging any campaign at the Cannes Lions. 

”The planet – and our clients – need behavioral change guided by advertising now more than ever, and Cannes Lions can play a pivotal role in making that change a reality.” 

Awarding mainly campaigns that effectively encourage responsible consumption, or advocate for social and environmental justice would send a powerful message. It would demonstrate that Cannes Lions is not only a platform for creativity and innovation but also a force for positive change. 

We are aware that advertising operates within a complex ecosystem where commercial interests often take precedence. However, as the effects of climate change become increasingly evident and the need for sustainable practices grows, it is crucial for the industry to embrace its role in driving behavioural change. Not only for the health of the planet, but also for the health of our clients: the big brands. Because consumers will increasingly demand that brands communicate in an authentically credible way around their sustainability approach. Sustainability, along with price and quality, will become the main driver to purchase. So if we as an industry do not want to become irrelevant, it is about time that we take action. We need to push effective sustainable communication as hard as we can.  

In conclusion, we believe there is an opportunity for the festival to take a bolder stance by mainly rewarding campaigns that actively contribute to behavioral change for a more sustainable world. By doing so, Cannes Lions can use its influential platform to drive positive change within the advertising industry and society as a whole. The planet – and our clients – need behavioral change guided by advertising now more than ever, and Cannes Lions can play a pivotal role in making that change a reality.  

Ben Van Asbroeck