Juneteenth is anything but business as usual this year as the advertising industry’s biggest and premier awards event, The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, kicks off. Celebrating its 70th year and seemingly more diverse than ever before, the illustrious festival in Cannes, France runs from Monday, June 19 through Friday, June 23. An estimated 122 million dollars is expected to be spent by the companies and attendees descending upon the Boulevard de la Croisette—the boardwalk separating the Palais de Festivals from hundreds of yachts, many of which are sponsored to host private meetings, panels, and parties.
The French Riviera looks more promising this week as consumers are better represented not just in the jury room but throughout the festival’s official and unofficial activities. Celebrities, including actress, podcaster, and new mom Keke Palmer, director Spike Lee, comedian and actor Kevin Hart, have made their way to town. They join the pioneering Cannes Can: Diversity Collective (CC:DC), Group Black, The Black Owned Media Equity & Sustainability Institute, the NAACP, and, for the first time, Black At Cannes.
The movement by CC:DC and its founder, Adrianne C. Smith, appears to bring substantive diversity to Cannes Lions, making a significant impact in opening eyes and doors to a much more welcoming and progressive experience. CC:DC programming kicked off with a conversation on what it takes to move a promise to practice, reflecting on a promise Adrianne made to Halle Berry in 2017 to bring more diversity to Cannes Lions.
“There are not a lot of people of color here, and we always talk about exposure and making it broader. Since we’ve been here, you’ve said people don’t really do anything about it, they talk trash, and they say we’re gonna make it happen – we’ve decided to bring ten people of color back next year,” Smith tells Berry. “This was my first year. You’ll see us back with ten people. And thanks for the reminder that you don’t just talk about it, you really have to be about it.”
Closing out to applause, Smith added, “So we don’t have any problems with saying we’re gonna make it happen and there are issues – we won’t make it an issue and we’ll make it a solution and we’re gonna bring the kids here.”
Inkwell Beach has become the place to see a who’s who of Black executives and other marketers at Cannes. The hub will host # sessions, # speakers providing essential programming that centers the Black experience and opportunities for marketers to seize.
Among the speakers today, include Google Vice President of Diversity Partnerships and Engagements Valeisha Butterfield Jones and DJ D-Nice. The pair spoke on owning the narrative and making a global impact through disruptive design. They also delved into essentials on owning and curating an authentic narrative for one to be successful in any industry. Then, BECA, the Black Executive CMO Alliance, took to the stage to reimagine the careers of mid-career Black marketers and what it takes to chart a path toward CMO and other C-suite roles.
Additional sessions explored the pledges made by the advertising industry and the lack of their follow-through. The speakers pointed out that brands are demanding access to communities while limiting the investments necessary to understand those communities, and attendees walked away with concrete knowledge about who to hold responsible and the right questions to ask creatives. The challenge brands have ahead of them now is to move from performative to reality.
This year’s festival has also thrown the spotlight onto Hero Media, the network behind Black Girls Rock!, Ebony, and Uptown. The company’s first “Heroes of Media,” awards ceremony honored luminaries including Halle Berry, P&G’s Eric Austin, and Ebony and Jet’s Eden Bridgeman Sklenar.
Lauren Maillian, Hero Media’s president, digital innovation, will grace several stages throughout the festival. Speaking about her excitement for this year’s festival and the importance of Juneteenth, Maillian stated, “Cannes Lions was an incredible experience last year, and I am thrilled to be back to make big moves for the culture.”
Additional movers and shakers appearing in the French Riviera include Charles Cantu, founder and CEO of neuro-programmatic ad network Reset Digital, and Mark D. Walker, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Direct Digital Holdings, the ninth Black-owned company to go public in the U.S. From Spotify, Xavier Jernigan the streaming services’ head of cultural partnerships and voice behind its new AI DJ better known as “X,” as well as Erin Styles, head of advertising business communications. Additionally, Chantel George, founder and CEO of Sistas In Sales, and Bayyina Black, global director of sustainability & impact, R/GA, are also in attendance.
The 2023 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity promises an array of fascinating sessions, from exploring the business impact of creativity to the power of investing in diversity and the rise of Black-owned media.
The festival has also proven to be a fertile ground for new partnerships and collaborations, driven by a mutual commitment to diversity and inclusivity. Organizations like Group Black and the Black Owned Media Equity & Sustainability Institute, which focus on creating opportunities and driving revenue for Black-owned media companies, are expected to forge new alliances and set ambitious goals.
As marketers reflect on this year’s festival on Juneteenth and what is to come, the message is clear. The future of advertising will be shaped by diverse creatives, informed by diverse perspectives, and ultimately, serve a diverse audience. The growth happening at Cannes Lions 2023 has proven that diversity and representation are not just trends, but are integral to the fabric of advertising.