The 5 Hottest Topics at Cannes Lions 2015: Women, Girls, Girls, Women, and Girls

Last year Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg came to the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, and boy did she make a difference.  This year, there were more speakers, panels, awards, and new programs aimed at marketing to women, women in marketing, and empowering girls than any other single topic.

Whether it will have any lasting impact on the advertising industry and those who live with its work is unknown. But the industry is certainly trying hard to show that it will.

From Agencies to Movie Stars

Speakers on all stages talked about the importance of marketing to women.

Agencies from Australia (Venus Communications) to London (Addiction Worldwide) to Hollywood (Trailer Park/Engine Group) gave talks about how to market to women in 2015.  My own panel on marketing to consumers 50+ (I represented IMC/Vibrant Nation together with Karen Strauss of Ketchum PR and Kirsty Fuller of the Flamingo Group) was heavily focused on women.

Sandberg’s Facebook partnered with Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation on several women-related programs at the Facebook Beach Club (yes, I say that with a straight face – the handmade juice drinks at the Instagram bar were delicious!).  They included a talk with Kat Gordon, Founder of the 3% Conference (inspired by research that showed only 3% of agency creative directors were women) and a one with the Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles on what it means to be a “Cosmo” woman in 2015.

Some days it seemed like powerful (or at least famous) women were everywhere.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus was there to talk about her (HBO) life as America’s first woman President.  Monica Lewinsky launched a campaign against cyber-bullying.  Natalie Imbruglia took part in an on-stage negotiation for her to endorse a tequila brand. And Kim Kardashian made a relatively low-key appearance as a “tech entrepreneur.”


Sandberg was also successful in getting the entire industry to add an award to its already-crowded portfolio of prizes: The “Glass Lion,” to recognize work that explicitly or implicitly recognizes gender.

Among the awards, campaigns that celebrated girls and women were consistently among the top winners, including:

  • “Touch the Pickle,” a BBDO/P&G India campaign to break taboos around menstruation in India won the first Grand Prix Glass Lion award
  • “Like a Girl,” the P&G (Always)/Leo Burnett Toronto campaign where girls, boys, men and women each acted out what it meant to “run like a girl” won the Grand Prix in PR
  • Under Armour/Droga5’s “I Will What I Want” campaign promoting its new athletic apparel for women and featuring Gisele Bundchen for her athletic strength won the Grand Prix in the Cyber category.
  •  “This Girl Can,” a British campaign promoting women’s athleticism, won the Grand Prix for Good and a Glass Lion
  • “Intimate Words,” A Leo Burnett/P&G (Always) campaign in Mexico that gave women a vocabulary to talk about sexual health, won the Grand Prix in Health & Wellness. If you didn’t think a video about cervical cancer could draw tears (and laughter), try this one.

And that’s just the Grand Prix winners (there are hundreds of Gold, Silver and Bronze winners too).

Cannes lionesses

Talk about girl power!

But Who Ends Up Actually Winning the Awards?

One place where women didn’t get much face time? On the Awards stage itself, where the senior judges are mostly men and very few winners seemed to be winners, and large agency teams that took the stage to accept the awards (even for the women-centric awards listed above) rarely had more than one woman among them on stage.

If Sheryl Sandberg really wants to have an impact on the advertising and marketing world, she may want to start focusing on HR practices next – or show up at Cannes every year.

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