IBM at Cannes 2018

Cannes Lions 2018: A Push for Belonging

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This year’s Cannes Lions festival was, predictably, a place where the freshest creative ideas, new media platforms, and groundbreaking technologies were on full display. This year felt like a confirmation of everything we’ve been saying for years: that technology isn’t just a piece of the marketing mix—marketing IS technology, and anyone trying to make marketing without considering the latest tech is going to get lost in the shuffle.

Inside the main Palais at Cannes 2018

It feels like the future, where new kinds of creative expression are possible thanks to innovative tech. But the sense of propulsion we felt wasn’t limited to the technology. For us, it felt like the first year where there was a serious, genuine effort made to discuss and promote inclusion in the industry, not simply because inclusion is a hot-button issue, but because a failure to embrace it as an ideal is literally holding our industry back.

We held a fascinating, inspiring panel on the subject featuring four outstanding women leaders, and there were several more panels devoted to the subject as well. It felt like a general industry acknowledgment that we’ve only scratched the surface of the problem, but we’re getting serious about actually doing something about it.

Panelists address the pressing issue of diversity and inclusion in the workplace during our Thursday thinkLeaders session

A number of profound insights surfaced in our conversation. We discussed the importance of intersectionality, which, in layman’s terms, means that an attempt to resolve one specific form of discrimination, but a failure to address other forms, will fail. This is due to the ways that race, gender, sexuality, class, and other social categories, overlap and intersect with one another. Organizations must focus on addressing all forms of discrimination at once if attempts at any one of them is to be considered a success.

This naturally must begin with recruiting—even at the fundamental level of what universities, for example, are targeted for hiring.

We also discussed how half-measures such as hiring quotas can be counterproductive, often generating a sense of “tokenism” among those hired simply to fill a quota. If organizations are going to push toward diversity, they can’t stop at hiring a specific number of minorities—they must invest resources in building an inclusive environment that welcomes, protects, and encourages all employees as they manage their careers within the organization. For example, unconscious bias training was recognized by our panel as an imperative. Being able to recognize one’s own hidden biases is a great first step toward the construction of an organization that values all identities and self-expressions.

The ultimate object of marketing in the long run is to reach all races and genders. In order to accomplish this, teams must create authentic work that creates sustainable, scalable solutions that point us to a better world. If that’s going to happen, then everyone needs to have a seat at the table so that the work reflects their lived experience.

“Note-taking” during Nancy Kramer’s session at Cannes 2018

This is all the more crucial in an environment when consumer trust is low, not just in brands but in all kinds of institutions. iX’s recent Brand Belonging study has found that today people feel isolated, atomized, trapped in their feeds, manipulated by the media. They’re searching for something true and real. By leading the way on diversity, brands can be a source of inspiration in anxious times.

The goal is to make people feel something. And in order to do that, the work needs to be authentic. And in order for it to be authentic, it needs to be not just executed, but ideated and shepherded along every step of the way by a diverse group of people who reflect our diverse world.

Of course, there’s a business case to be made for efforts to reverse this trend. Studies like this one have proven this out. But this goes beyond business imperatives. We have an ethical responsibility to the world to lead the way, in a time when true leaders are difficult to find.

And if this year’s Cannes Lion is any indication, we think we’re moving in the right direction. From the palais to the croisette to our own panels, we witnessed the ongoing struggle and discussion about diversity in our field. Here’s hoping that today’s discussion will translate into tomorrow’s action.

Leader, Digital Marketing Services, IBM iX || Editor-in-Chief, thinkLeaders

Sabine Roehl

Associate Partner, Creative Lead, IBM iX

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