Josh Loebner
Jul 11, 2022

The pageantry paradigm

Aligning awards, events and the industry with actionable inclusion.

The pageantry paradigm

As many relish their wins and recover from an in-person Cannes Lions festival, others are having conversations about building back better with more inclusive experiences. 

In 2021 inclusive creative campaigns hit a tipping point and were elevated with the highest honors. We saw that again this year as FCB Inferno, Virgin Group and LinkedIn’s #DyslexicThinking campaign, which reframes dyslexia as a business skill, won the Titanium Lion. McCann’s Spotlight commercial for Mastercard, which won a Silver Lion, prominently featured a blind person easily using its Touchcards, which have notches for easier identification without having to see the card. 

Inequalities have also been identified. The Cannes Can Diversity Collective, now in its fifth year, elevates diversity, equity and inclusion with conversations at Inkwell Beach, recognizes diverse work and supports attendance among communities of color and underrepresented groups. 

Black Madison Avenue, a bold series documenting a no holds barred conversation on the Black experience in advertising, disappointingly wasn’t even shortlisted. It did, however, provoke conversations on stage. There remains a lack of diversity among those judging ad industry awards – something the industry vowed to work on in 2020. 

Panels and speakers continued to focus on the need to operationalize accessibility and welcome the disability community. One session featured panelists, including Wunderman Thompson’s global planning director, Nicky Buss, and representatives from P&G, among other brands, shared actionable approaches to accessibility with attendees. Google was the festival’s first accessibility partner, a relationship that will hopefully lead to meaningful commitments.

For those with disabilities, physical access to beaches, stages, venues and other access points may currently present significant barriers. International festivals bring together a confluence of languages, but often, sign language and captioning isn’t considered for deaf and hard of hearing attendees. Festivals, stages and panels evoke colors and sounds that may literally be sensory overload for neurodivergent attendees. Establishing quiet spaces, implementing sensory alerts for loud noises and bright lights and creating reduced sensory moments can benefit everyone. Relief stations are as critical as directions to the bathroom for those with disabilities that use service dogs.

If authentic and effective accessibility and inclusion are major goals in our campaigns, we need to learn how to work with people with disabilities earlier, and more often, throughout the creative process as consultants, co-creators and full-time staff. Hesitation may persist around the unknown, but programming, training, educating and equipping non-disabled teams will lead to more commitments to bring in disabled talent. 

The disability community is one of the most diverse and intersectional minority groups, spanning people with apparent and non-apparent disabilities, including neurodiversity. Disability language, terminology and actions continue to evolve, and best practices, even about simple conversations, aren’t often taught in school or DE&I training. Appropriate disability language, etiquette training and allyship is at the foundation of forward progress, so agencies and brands can welcome more people with disabilities not only into their creative work, but the creative process. 

Whether due to cost, timing or inaccessibility, many people may not be able to physically attend events. Hybrid and digital events have the potential to augment and amplify in-person industry gatherings. The metaverse can facilitate immersive, interactive virtual venues to showcase agency work or offer a space for people to connect.

We live in a world where physical and psychological safety are critically important, in moments of revelry and recognition. Everyone attending Cannes, across any minority group, should feel welcomed, safe and supported. That means that protocols, crisis comms and overall messaging is detailed, accessible, inclusive and dynamic. 

We’re talking about Cannes, but we should be amplifying these principles every day. Hire and elevate minorities to executive positions. Forster supplier diversity. Elevate conversations among affinity and employee resource groups. Support industry organizations championing minority growth. Set short term, measurable goals, governance and accountability to action on your efforts. Recognize the worth of your IE&D leadership to elevate, differentiate and activate your company to achieve more. 

As the monumental moments in Cannes sunset and fade, we must all boldly inspire meaningful commitments. Opportunities abound to continue the inclusion revolution. 

Josh Loebner is global head of inclusive design at Wunderman Thompson.

Campaign US

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