Two 20-somethings on their maiden voyage to the Cannes Lions in France.
"Malvika, it's hot off the press. You're both coming to Cannes."
That's what the notification read. Work emails have been notorious for stale introductions, so threadbare with use that we're bound to ignore them. But this one was a much-welcome anomaly.
Krishnapriya and I were the national winners of Young Lions 2022 in the Print category, and our agency had agreed to generously sponsor our trip to Cannes - travel, food, accommodation, you name it.
For two 22-year-olds who're less than a year old in advertising, this felt like a blurry vortex of fact and fiction. The semblance of a distant pipedream.
But after talking to other international competitors and enduring some shopping cardio, our Imposter Syndrome finally fell by the wayside and we were ready for Cannes Lions 2022 - the most prestigious festival that celebrates creativity and the forces harnessing it.
On June 20th, we found ourselves at the imposing, sun-bathed venue - Palais des Festivals - which also happens to host the Cannes Film Festival. As you can imagine, we took a minute to dwell on the fact that we were sashaying down the same red carpet as Tom Cruise. Why, it's a small world.
We felt smaller, however, in the presence of many trailblazing ideas. Ideas that were substance and spunk in equal parts. Ones that made others laugh, think, and rebel. Every morning, we would make our way to the basement to attend The Exhibition - a serpentine paper trail of all Cannes Lion-winning work that we could freely marvel at and be inspired by.
What do you think IKEA, a furnishing solutions store, can do for breast cancer awareness? Well, they took their 'Kransborre' cushion - which already resembles a breast because of its round structure - and added a lifesize lump inside it as a constant reminder for women to self-examine. The copy was an added fillip. "Don't sleep on it. Early detection saves lives." Brilliant.
How can you spark a conversation about the rising gun content online? Just send a knee-jerking message to YouTube. Using YouTube. That's what Guns Down America PSA did when they made real gun survivors review the firearms that almost killed them. Daring and debilitating.
The urge to etch an impact was always second nature at The Exhibition. But the most rewarding facet was coming face-to-face with industry buffs and barons who believe in such ideas, including Nike's CMO, DJ Van Hameren.
Keeping a finger on the pulse of trends, he elucidated how "there's no finish line" at Nike. Wendy Clark and Fred Levron, CEO and CCO of Dentsu International respectively, used the Cannes Lions stage as a launchpad and springboard for Dentsu Creative - the new sole global network for Dentsu International to accelerate creativity.
But while hammering the anvil of creativity, brands often misstep boundaries. Cultural appropriation shows up, moonlighting as appreciation. Photos with unheeded historical context end up becoming mute spectators on aesthetic mood boards.
"That's why it's important to collaborate with trusted voices," said Karabo Poppy, a street artist and illustrator who brings her South African heritage to the fore with every brand collaboration. "You know you're not appropriating when your work gives back to the company as well as the culture."
Gleaning words of wisdom from every stage, we couldn't have missed what Ryan Reynolds had to say. As the audience in the mighty Lumiere sputtered rapturous applause, Reynolds talked about employing humour in modern-day adverts and not being "hyper sincere". But even while dishing out advice, he managed to leave us all in splits.
An equally star-struck moment materialized when Issa Rae walked onto the stage. Creator and lead actor of the Emmy-and-Golden-Globe-nominated show, Insecure, Rae's words weren't copious but cutting: "Don't be afraid to be a bitch." It is this uncompromising and unabashed demeanour that has helped her meet the standards she expects.
We, as creative people, shoulder the very same onus of meeting high standards. Using our laurels as a yardstick to push the boundaries. Making sure what we put out into the world has meaning. Dole created vegan leather made out of pineapple leaves, that otherwise go to waste.
Vice Media Group birthed 'Backup Ukraine' - a clarion call for people to preserve Ukraine's monuments and buildings, that were otherwise caught in the crosshairs of war. It's campaigns like these that not only snagged metals this year but also landed into the moshpit of excellence, raising the bar for all. And this certainly didn't happen without people at the helm being 'inconvenient' or 'unforgiving'. These are specimens of precision-powered work, only waiting to be grander next year.
One such project, as I might proudly add, is our very own home-grown, the Unfiltered History Tour that bagged 3 Grand Prixs, among many other metals. It's this product of hard work and collaboration that named Dentsu Webchutney, 'Agency of the Year' - an unprecedented feat for India on the global stage. The howls, cheers and the rose-glass clinks might've abated, but our hopes for an even better sweep in 2023 haven't.
At the end of our trip, as all tourists do, Krishnapriya and I stopped at the exchange. As you picture an unassuming cashier converting Euros into Rupees, know what we've learnt now -
Our ideas are the only currency we have. One day, your ideas coax you to take part in a competition that showed up as a sponsored ad on Instagram. But the next day, they might just fly you out to a new country.
Malvika Thirani is a senior copywriter and Krishnapriya Ullattil is a visualiser at Dentsu Webchutney.