Show up in every sphere

To take a deeper, multi-dimensional approach to DE&I, industry leaders and Lion winners emphasise the need to go further and co-create with communities. Put the focus on helping create generational wealth and understand the implications of appropriating culture. With a burgeoning metaverse, purpose-led brands must avoid mapping biases and inequalities onto new worlds too. Until now, the narrative of DE&I has exceeded the action. There is an urgent need to build back better and create new ways to benefit the communities we've traditionally marginalised or ignored.

“Frankly, we’re late to the party and we have to own that. Our industry does not reflect the communities that we serve globally”

Vicky Free Head of Global Marketing | Adidas

Speaking at the Cannes Lions 2022 talk 'The Changemakers' in partnership with Euronews

Nothing about us, without us

From Pilsen Callao’s 'E-nterpreters' by Fahrenheit DDB Lima to the International Paralympic Committee’s '#WeThe15' by adam&eveDDB London, some of the best work this year sought to solve real-world inequalities through co-creating with the communities concerned. To find out more about the experience of communities, “plug into them” advises model and activist Munroe Bergdorf. “It’s important to not just be the one hiring, but bring people in to make sure it’s well rounded,” she says.

Google advocates this principle and has gone a step further to share its insight with the industry. As an addition to its All In site, Google has created a playbook to help the industry design accessible marketing. It was created in partnership with LaVant Consulting and Disability:IN. This work shows the importance of consulting experts who are invested in and part of the community to ensure inclusivity. The playbook helps the industry embed accessibility for all into every aspect of the brand, from conception to execution.

An example of such focused co-creation comes from Cox Communications Atlanta through its 'Project Convey' work for Cox. The cable and internet provider wanted to strengthen its brand sentiment and show its ability to provide human connection. Cox Communications Atlanta created a video chat prototype that helps people on the spectrum connect better with the person on the other side of the screen. In collaboration with autism expert Dr Michelle Dean and Exceptional Minds, a media school for the ASD community, focus groups helped hone the tool and sent its features down new avenues to serve end users. “It was exciting for the students and exciting for us to see their expertise applied for themselves - because rarely do they get to work on jobs where it’s about them,” says Mike Bokman, Executive Creative Director at 180LA, that came up with the idea that won Gold in the Health & Wellness Lions.

Long-term commitments with a range of partners in these communities is key. Grand Prix winner Google’s 'Real Tone - Product Innovation & Global Campaign' Pixel 6 campaign, via Google Mountain View, was a marathon four-year project. Mobile Lions juror Cristina Bacelli commended Google for its involvement of a diverse community of image experts, spanning photographers, cinematographers, and colorists. It shouldn’t be a huge leap though, as this kind of collaboration is already happening on platforms like TikTok. Sofia Hernandez, Global Head of Business Marketing at TikTok, told us that 66% of people appreciate it when a brand partners with a creator on the platform. Listening in and working with the community is just another way to spark creativity and move at pace with culture.

“Companies cannot count on passionate individuals to drive change. They can start a new movement or idea, but companies and organisations need to think about how they can create systemic change.”

Aline Santos Chief Brand Officer and Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer Unilever

Speaking at the Cannes Lions and Advertising Associations 2022 talk 'By 2030 Every Ad Will Be a Green Ad'




Equity payback

Representation of women and people of colour on screen in Cannes Lions creative work increased by 30% between 2016 and 2021 (source: Cannes Lions and Geena Davis Institute study of Bias & Inclusion in Advertising). But it’s no longer enough to represent Black communities in advertising. The industry must take concrete steps to share profits and bake in economic equity. It will be measured by this metric in years to come. Industry leaders speaking at Cannes Lions, and Lion winners show us examples of brands using creativity to support these endeavours.

A talk hosted by King James, part of Accenture Song demonstrated how Blockchain minting agency Made with Black Culture’s ethical trade tech evaluates the use of Black culture. It authenticates consumer products to ensure a percentage of the profits are funnelled back into boosting the community. At the same time, Google’s Digital Craft Lion Gold winner ‘Black-owned Friday 2021’ by Google New York cements the importance of supporting Black-owned businesses all year, not just on specific days.




In the King James talk at Cannes Lions, Tommy Johnson, Chief Educational Officer at Made With Black Culture, said data shows that 71% of Nike’s value comes from borrowing the equity of black culture. Black culture generates $15 trillion annually, yet it is struggling economically. It is no longer okay taking more than you give. Tommy said he was not there to call people out but to call them forward to change their part in how the world participates in Black culture.

45% of US consumers, (equating to over 100 million shoppers) believe retailers should actively support Black-owned businesses and brands. 70% of White American consumers want to support Black-owned business and brands, according to McKinsey.

The ambition of championing economic inclusion for underrepresented communities was a common theme at Cannes Lions. Ryan Reynolds, CCO of MNTN/Maximum Impact, highlighted The Group Effort Initiative in his talk with Dentsu’s Global CEO, Wendy Clark. Its aim to create a more inclusive film as a means to create generational wealth is inspiring Reynolds as he develops his nonprofit Creative Ladder, and increases career options in marketing, advertising, design and commercial production.

“Black culture has been at the nexus of music, arts, and creativity it has also – without getting credit – been right at the nexus of product innovation and therefore right at the nexus and innovation of business innovation. But not getting credit for it. This is the time to do that. That’s what it means to get that right and to actually make progress in the moment.”

Kirk McDonald CEO | Group M

Speaking at the BECA Cannes Lions 2022 talk 'Top Black Marketers Talk Disruption, Paving the Way for Nextgen'

"Don’t be the best in the world, be the best FOR the world."

Karabo Poppy Illustrator

Speaking at the King James, Part of Accenture Song Cannes Lions 2022 talk 'Celebration vs Cultural Appropriation '

Help build the betterverse

Critics of the metaverse ask whether we should be investing in metaverse and Web3 if the physical world has so many problems. With some 60% of people believing there’s a lack of inclusivity in virtual worlds, the risk is that biases in the physical world are mapped and magnified into new dimensions. Through Will, the first homeless person in the metaverse, Entourage via TBWA Paris questions whether it is simply a distraction to wider problematic issues in society in ‘Homeless in the metaverse’; a piece that picked up a Bronze Brand Experience & Activation Lion.

Creative minds must avoid utopias and strive for 'protopias' - realistic progress and slow change that improves society over time. "It's about integrating social good and safety into the virtual worlds that we're creating and participating in," says Cassandra Napoli, senior strategist at WGSN Insight.

A Lion-winning example is 'Beyond the Binary' by Colenso BBDO Auckland for Spark, which picked up a Silver in the Direct Lions. Its code can be added to any website, rewriting the internet to be more inclusive, deepening a company's commitment to the gender expression of their consumers.

To prepare for creative work in the Metaverse, the goal for brands and designers is to integrate inclusivity, safety and diversity in these spaces to create a ‘BetterVerse’. As dedicated business units from brands including Nike and Balenciaga emerge to focus on Web3, the responsibility to design ethically sits with an emerging ‘Metaforce’. Job posts with the word Metaverse in them grew by 1,042% between 2020 and 2021, according to employment website Indeed. The challenge is ensuring these roles are filled with diverse talent who will advocate for better worlds.





Judy Toland, VP, Global Customer Marketing, emphasises how the metaverse will be created by everyone, for everyone in the talk by Cannes Lions and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media ‘Purpose Driven Progress - Tangible Actions to Achieve DE&I Now’.

It's crucial that we develop virtual worlds for all that are mindful of the problems that exist in a Web 2.0 world. We must build virtual worlds people will want to be a part of - by being inclusive, diverse and safe.

Cassandra Napoli Senior strategist | WGSN Insight

Speaking at WGSN's Cannes Lions 2022 talk '3 Simple Steps - Brand Building in the Metaverse'

Representation helps people to understand themselves. Shifts in pop culture and shifts in advertising have helped people live happier lives. Who doesn't want to be a part of that?

Munroe Bergdorf Model and Activist

Speaking at the Unstereotype Alliance's Cannes Lions 2022 talk 'It's Not the Time to Pat Ourselves on the Back'

The Festival's focus on DE&I shifted this year from being solely about ensuring equitable representation to demanding fair reward. There is concern that tech could help communities level up, but that must be considered from the outset to avoid deepening the inequalities that exist in the real world as we shift into Web3 and we begin to populate the metaverse with virtual inequality.