Updated Jun 20, 2023, 2:01am EDT

Dial down the politics, Cannes Lions ad festival tells jurors

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Cannes Lions

Sign up for Semafor Media: Media’s essential read. Read it now.

Title icon

The Scoop

Sign up for our daily coverage of Cannes Lions here.

The organizers of the advertising industry’s top awards ceremony have quietly instructed juries to steer clear of politics and advocacy in favor of awarding more commercially-minded campaigns.

Jurors and leaders of juries heard from organizers in video calls and recorded videos over recent weeks. The message: They “should remember that what we do can be entertaining, can be inspiring, and it’s for brands selling shit,” said one juror. That juror and four other people familiar with the messaging said it focused on celebrating light-hearted, lucrative advertising over heavier, more political content.

Simon Cook, the Lions CEO, confirmed the jury instructions in the somewhat less direct language of the industry.

“Many brands of course believe strongly, and have the evidence, that purpose-led work is effective and meaningful to their consumers. We know that this is only one option for marketers though,” he said in an email. “This is why we ask that our juries think about the breadth of the work that they are awarding so that they are curating a body of exceptional work that represents the entire suite of options available to build brands, sell products and drive progress through creativity.”


The festival is newly suggesting entrants include information about what an ad campaign accomplished.

Title icon

Ben’s view

The Lions awards are handed out on the French Riviera, and the festival isn’t responding directly to the damaging right-wing backlash in the United States to brands like Bud Light and Target, people involved with judging said.

But the push to extract corporations from politics is part of the same global trend away from the social-media driven progressive movements that dominated the 2010s. The industry snapback kicked off in earnest last summer, when the chief brand officer at Procter and Gamble, Marc Pritchard, an influential industry figure, told an audience that advertising had “gone too far into the good” at the expense of commercial goals.

He found a ready audience among ad industry executives and creatives who have complained for years about earnest ads for social causes that pull at juries’ heartstrings but don’t have clear real-world impact. Back in 2015, a spoof dubbed “Grand Prix Generator” spat out causes like “Free the tired endangered badgers.” Last year’s top award went to a moving campaign for the Kiyan Prince Foundation, honoring a slain British soccer player.

Top honors also went to The Lost Class, a campaign built around a graduation ceremony for American students killed with guns.


“It had an emotional impact but — it hasn’t changed anything in America,” one of the jurors, Jo-ann Robertson, the CEO of Global Markets at Ketchum, reflected in a recent interview with PR Week. “We got carried away with that.”

Title icon

Room for Disagreement

Bonin Bough, a top marketer who co-founded Group Black, said he hadn’t heard the details of the jury instructions.

“If it is true I think it is a large part of the problem the industry has in general,” he said. “Insinuating that investing in diverse audiences is only a social justice play, suggests these audiences have no economic value. Time and time again it has been proven that investing in minority groups drives business and is a huge source of growth.”

Title icon


  • “Creatives told Adweek they’re looking for humor and advertising that actually sells stuff will win more of the spotlight in 2023.”
  • The Bud Light and Target controversies mark the beginning of “a new era of corporate caution,” New York observed.
  • The counterpoint to this trend is Nike’s 2018 ad featuring the athlete and activist Colin Kaepernick, which sold a lot of shoes — albeit before the reaction to “woke” marketing became a central issue for the American right.