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Reflections of Cannes Lions 2019

Encouraging diversity and inclusion at Facebook is something that’s really close to my heart. Diversity is critical to the success of our company. Why?

The Cannes Lions Festival has never been more important. This gathering of the great and the good from the creative industries on the sun-drenched Croisette, has always been an opportunity to celebrate outstanding work from the past year and look forward to the emerging themes in advertising.

I’m sure this will always be true of the festival, but as I reflect on my week at Cannes, I’m proud to say it has evolved into much, much more. Yes, the sun remains, but the Festival itself is now swiftly becoming a serious forum to lead important debates such as diversity in advertising, moving away from gender stereotyping and opening the debate of how technology enables creativity for the benefit of the consumer it serves.

This may be my 17th year at Cannes, but the themes and progress in our industry felt fresh, exciting and future-forward.


I’ll remember 2019 as the year we moved away from paying lip-service to diversity and inclusion, to taking meaningful action towards it.

Encouraging diversity and inclusion at Facebook is something that’s really close to my heart. Diversity is critical to the success of our company. Why? Because people from all backgrounds rely on Facebook to connect with others, and we better serve their needs with a more diverse workforce. It’s essential for future-proofing creativity and innovation for any organisation.

Whilst we’ve come a long way as an industry, research unveiled at Cannes by the Unstereotype Alliance showed that whilst 80% of people said they thought gender equality was important, one in three believed that if a man and woman do the same job, the man should be paid more. Clearly, there’s still a long way to go.

To address this, in collaboration with the Unstereotype Alliance, Cannes Lions updated jury guidelines for all awards.  In a ground-breaking manoeuvre, jury members were required to consider whether the work submitted perpetuates negative stereotypes and inequalities.

The impact of this is undeniable, and the recognition that stereotype-free creative is good for business permeated all discussions at Cannes.  In fact a recent study in the US found that 60% of survey respondents say they are more loyal to, and prefer to shop with, brands that promote gender equality.

The Glass Lion Award category, of which Facebook is a proud sponsor, has never played a more important role in recognising the work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality.  Poland took home a Glass Lion this year for doing just that. VMLY&R and Polish newspaper Gazeta.pl made a powerful partnership, turning the last issue of Poland’s oldest adult magazine from objectification to a powerful message of women’s empowerment.

I firmly believe that through partnership, we can achieve far greater things than alone. One of the ways Facebook is turning talk into action is through our commitment to Free The Work. This is a new, pioneering industry partnership which will put systems in place that would see 50 per cent of ads directed by women by as early as 2020. We’re currently at seven per cent.

We believe that to drive diversity we need holistic and systemic change across our agency partners and production houses. That’s why at Cannes Lions this year, we also outlined standards for diversity within our global agency networks. We expect our agency workforce to reflect the diversity of the world and our platform.

We’ve made a lot of progress on diversity and inclusion, and steps like this are critical to ensuring progress continues. But one of the biggest myths out there is that progress is closer than we think. We should never underestimate the work still to be done.


Another theme that gained significant momentum at Cannes this year was authenticity. Digital connectivity and mobile devices have raised expectations. With increasing competition for consumers’ attention, it’s more important than ever for brands to be authentic.

I met with Gary Vaynerchuk. Chairman of VaynerX, at Cannes where we spent a great deal of time discussing this topic. He believes that people don’t want the polished image anymore, being real and in the moment is more effective both for advertisers and consumers.

It’s a sentiment that was shared by legendary photographer Rankin, who was at Cannes discussing the importance of sharing your real self, as opposed to creating an image that’s not authentic. The democratisation of photography he said, where everyone has a camera in their pocket, should be the perfect opportunity to express your individuality rather than creating that perfect image.

Brands with purpose

We know consumers today are more purpose-driven than ever before. For example, Accenture research shows that more than half of consumers who are disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it. What’s more, 37 percent of consumers walk away from the brand in frustration and a quarter won’t ever go back. I don’t know of a brand that can afford for one third of its customer base to walk away. The business case for brand purpose is clear.

Purpose was prevalent as a theme for both the work and the winners in Cannes, with Nike taking out the Grand Prix for its purposeful ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. The vast majority of the 900 or so entries for the Sustainable Development Goals categories this year were from brands.

I spoke to Craig Buchholz, Chief Communications Officer at P&G, about purpose and the notable shift in brands sparking conversations which elevate humanity. P&G’s Gillette ad called ‘First Shave’ is an excellent example of just that. Indeed, at Facebook we were proud to see our recent work for the Pantene Thailand campaign featured for an award, which celebrated the transgender haircare movement.


And finally, it wouldn’t be Cannes without touching on technological leaps when it comes to consumer engagement. A great example of this was P&G’s new partnerships which put purpose at the heart of their innovation, leveraging the best of cutting-edge technology all to enhance the customer experience.

The P&G LifeLab at Cannes showcased new experiences which harness AI such as Oral-B Sense, Olay Skin Advisor and SK-II FutureX Smart Store, where you could have a personal skincare recommendation based on a scan of your skin, that lead the way in how other brands should be thinking about innovation.

Immersive technologies, such as AI, will be some of the most powerful partners we have when it comes to driving the change and action. We’re only now seeing the tip of the iceberg at Cannes and its’ future is one to watch.

It will be through innovation in the creative industries that we create valuable societal change. Whether through celebrating creative that’s tackling stereotypes, or through immersive consumer experiences to bring customers on the innovation journey with you.

I’m really excited to see how we turn talk into action over the next year, and like many others I can’t wait to see what further leaps we’ll make at Cannes 2020.

Nicola Mendelsohn is currently the Vice President for Europe, Middle East, and Africa for Facebook. A role she has held since 2013.

She currently serves on The Mayor of London’s Business Advisory Board, The UK government’s Industrial Strategy Council and is a non-executive director of Diageo. She and her husband are also co-presidents of the charity Norwood.

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