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A Tale of Two Cannes

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In the first of a series of blogs, Women in PR President, Mary Whenman, writes about her recent experience of being a judge on the Glass Lion jury at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Two really important things happened at Cannes Lions this year.

The first important thing that happened at Cannes Lions was the Glass Lion Grand Prix was awarded to transgender campaign Brooke Bond Red Label 6-Pack Band created for Hindustan Unilever by Mindshare Mumbai, India. Why was this important? The campaign demonstrates a number of things.

It shows that the developed world doesn’t have a monopoly on creativity and innovation when it comes to challenging inequality, imbalance or injustice. This is the second year a campaign from India has won the Glass Lion Grand Prix and a further two Glass Lions went to campaigns from India this year.

It shows that traditional, 113 year old brands like Brooke Bond Red Label can take a huge creative risk and surprise you, which is down to the bravery of the client and the creativity and skills of the agency to get them to take that risk.

It shows that if you want to bring about social change, and in this case, create greater understanding and social acceptance, you need to get into mainstream popular culture.

Finally, it sent a message to the global advertising industry that the Glass Lion was not “the women’s Lion” and that it was established to address any gender issues. Another campaign that won a Glass Lion was Never Alone for Guinness and Diageo by AMVBBDO London about the story of Gareth Thomas coming out as the first, gay, England rugby player. Message sent, loud and clear.

The second important thing that happened at Cannes Lions was Madonna Badger’s keynote speech ‘Sex, Lies & Advertising.’ On my first night in Cannes I went down to the hotel lobby to meet up with my fellow judges and walk over to the Carlton for judges welcome drinks, but nobody was there. Feeling very British about timekeeping and slightly anxious, I asked the concierge if he’d seen anybody and he replied, “Madonna said she’d meet you at the Carlton,” and that was how I first met Madonna Badger.

Madonna Badger is, without a doubt, the most impressive woman I’ve ever met. She’s also possibly the most influential in terms of the impact she could have on attitudes towards women. Meeting her and knowing her story is humbling. On the first day of judging, we went round the room and introduced ourselves. We got to Madonna who said, “My story is particularly heavy.” She then told us how on Christmas Eve in 2011 her house caught fire killing her three, young daughters Lily, 9, and twins Grace and Sarah, 7, as well as her parents. The loss was beyond comprehension. We were reeling from the shock of what she’d told us. However, Madonna has had to live it. She’s survived physically and mentally. She has extreme resilience, and most importantly, she has a purpose.

Madonna was in Cannes to give a keynote speech called ‘Sex, Lies & Advertising’ on the Monday. Two days before, on the first day of judging, we didn’t finish until 9.00pm and five of us, including Madonna, got into a restaurant at 9.30pm. It was a bit of a girl’s night out and we were getting to know each other when Madonna offered to rehearse her speech. Over the course of the next hour and a half (we kept interrupting), she told us her story. She told us how she got into advertising. She told us how she set up her agency. She told us about the night of the fire. She told us about the dark years afterwards. She told us about her amazing business partner Jim Winters and how he kept her place at Badger & Winters so she could go back when she was ready. She told us about #WomenNotObjects which was the reason she was in Cannes and is her driving purpose and legacy to change the advertising industry.

Everything I’ve written about Madonna was in her Cannes Lions speech. While it’s not on line yet, you can watch a backstage interview with her here.

When you’re on a Cannes Lions jury you become a unit. For the period of time that you are judging, you are together pretty much 24/7. We wanted to be Madonna’s cheerleaders. Unfortunately, Madonna’s speech was at the same time as the press conference to announce the Glass Lion winners and Grand Prix. We all went to the press conference and then ran to the Lumiere Theatre where Madonna was giving her speech. We arrived at the back of the theatre just as she got a standing ovation. The reaction was incredible. It has been humbling meeting Madonna.

If you would like to sign the #WomenNotObjects petition, you can find it here, in memory of Lily, Grace and Sarah.


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