Arvind Hickman
Jun 20, 2022

Volodymyr Zelensky: 'Power of creativity greater than a nuclear state stuck in the past’

CANNES LIONS: Ukraine's president and its leading creatives urge adland to help it defeat Russia.

Volodymyr Zelensky: 'Power of creativity greater than a nuclear state stuck in the past’

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and some of his country's top creatives have called on the industry to use the power of creativity to help the embattled nation win the war against Russia.

In a special video address at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity on Monday, Zelensky delivered an impassioned plea to adland to ensure the world does not forget about the plight of Ukraine and to promote its brand for bravery.

The former comedian turned president said Ukraine needed “the most creative people in the world” as allies.

“Even during a time of war, you have the power to reach the depths of the human soul,” he said. “You make people talk about issues everyone would otherwise overlook.”

His words echo a fear that the longer the Russian invasion continues, the more likely the global media’s attention will shift to other issues.

“Speak of Ukraine, don't let the world switch to something else,” he said. “I'm sure that you will do a lot more to promote Ukrainian bravery. Your campaign and your work will make our fight for freedom legendary, because we are fighting not only for our own freedom, but for the freedom of the entire democratic world. And for all of those who cannot even imagine the extent of tyranny and censorship that exists in Russia. 

He continued: “Now you can bring peace to Europe simply by applying your professional qualities. I believe that the power of human creativity is greater than the power of nuclear state that is stuck in the past. 

“Your every success will mean saving thousands of lives. Thank you and glory to Ukraine.”

Zelnsky’s speech was received with boisterous applause by a near capacity Lumiere Theatre – the largest at venue at the week long festival.

A panel of four creatives included singer Jamala, Bart & Fink creative director Oleg Tomin, Banda Agency co-owner and creative director Pasha Vrheshch and UNITED24 co-ordinator, PR and marketing leader Yaroslava Gres.

Vrzheshch explained how, when the war began on 24 February, he wanted to work out how his creative agency could help the nation defeat the invading enemy.

“What can we do, create a poster, shoot a video or design a stylish corporate award-winning identity? It’s a tough question but we decided to turn our creative agency into creative forces.

“If you want to stop Russian tanks, we need to stop Russian propaganda. So at the start of the war, our creative agency turned into creative forces and created digital campaigns, videos and attacked propaganda.

“Our superpower is to promote brands. Is it weird if we start to the country during the war starts to promote itself as a brand?"

That is what Banda Agency did by creating a brand around Ukrainian bravery, which has been displayed on billboards across the world in 140 cities and on 10,000 displays, including in the UK and New York’s Time Square.

The agency has no media budget, and relied on donated media, which Vrzheshch said meant the campaign was not limited.

Gres, whose business partner and brother joined the Ukranian military to fight against Russia, explained how she launched the UNITED24 campaign with the blessing of Zelensky. So far it has raised more than $60m. 

She had a simple message for adland: “My goal here today is to bring more creativity into fundraising, to start collaboration with the world's most famous brands, the ones that don't stand on the sidelines, the ones that express their stance and engage their consumers. We want to co-launch projects with the best agencies in the world. And we are open to your most brave ideas.”

Jamala, who won the 2016 Eurovision in Stockholm with a song about her grandparents' and family’s forced deportation in Crimea under Joseph Stalin, explained how her singing career immediately paused once the war began and Russian forces forced her family to flee once again.

At times holding back tears, she also urged the creatives industry to “use our voices” in support of Ukraine.

Tomin explained how his career and life been turned upside down and the perils of living under the constant threat of bombs.

Campaign UK

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