There wasn’t a lot of controversy at this year’s Cannes Lions but there were a couple of moments that got people talking, and one of those was the arrest of a faction of environmental activists mid-way through the week on the steps of the Palais.

Extinction Rebellion defines itself as “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.” Last month, they wrote an open letter to the advertising industry demanding action to combat an ecological emergency.

Following the arrest (and later release) of 14 protestors on Wednesday evening, The Drum held a special session at its week-long headquarters, dubbed as The Drum Arms. Editor Stephen Lepitak moderated a discussion with Chris Gorell Barnes, founder of agency Adjust Your Set, French activist Fanny Dollberg, and William Skeaping, an activist and former creative strategist at McCann London.  

Mobilising the marketing world begins by convincing the different actors within to take it seriously, the group explained, starting at the Cannes Lions where they’ve been meeting with industry players to create a framework that enables agencies and clients to know what they can do to contribute. The group stresses that they have no personal beef with the Cannes Lions but that this is where the advertising industry is. These are the people who can help shape and diffuse the message for audiences around the globe.

“Advertising is the most influential industry on the planet and it needs to use its power of influence to make governments and citizens and consumers realize how urgent the crisis is and enable them to have the right spirit to be able take the necessary action,” Gorell Barnes explained.

Extinction Rebellion’s transformative vision might not win everyone over. “Business as usual is just going to have to stop,” said Skeaping, and that means changing rules about consumer products and services, cutting ties with certain industries, and even being ready to make sacrifices to the bottom line.

“We’ve been very good at changing communications rules about products and services that we consume as human beings… We need to create a framework that is the same, that we can understand how bad the brands and products are on the planet so consumers can decide whether or not they want to purchase a product”, suggested Gornell Barnes.

The group is encouraged by the progress other social issues have made in the last few years, especially concerning racial and gender diversity. They’re motivated by the fact that conversation about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals has started to gain traction on the Croisette but action still isn’t meeting the urgency of the situation, in their view. Gorrell Barnes pointed out the irony of an industry, “obsessed with millennials and generation Z” not doing more. “It’s time to shift focus from growth or else there will be no Cannes”.

About the Contributor

Theda Braddock is an American who lives and works in Paris. She helps agencies develop their communication and promote creativity, and writes for several publications when she has time.

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