Black Out 2023: An opportunity for the creative industry to ensure the presence of Black talent at Cannes

Black Out 2023: An opportunity for the creative industry to ensure the presence of Black talent at Cannes


The mere mention of its name evokes visions of glamorous film festivals and an exclusive gathering of A-list (to Z-list celebrities). But there’s more. It's the International Festival of Creativity and I had the pleasure of experiencing it alongside 49 other immensely talented Black creatives from diverse disciplines.

Photographers, creative strategists, filmmakers, advertising executives, and producers united in this vibrant city. Together, we embarked on an unforgettable journey to network, learn, and grow (and party a little bit). With our gold passes, meaning access to absolutely everything Cannes had to offer, we saw, we came, and we conquered, in the words of rapper and record producer, ASAP Rocky.

All of this became possible thanks to the collaborative efforts of Cephas Williams, the visionary founder of the Black British Network, Phil Thomas, President of Ascential Events (the parent company of Cannes Lions) and Simon Cook, the CEO of Cannes Lions. Together, they proudly introduced Black Out 2023 to drive Black representation at Cannes Lions, urging organizations in marketing and creative industries to ensure the presence of Black talent at the event.

If Cephas Williams could personally invest in taking Black creatives, why couldn't the world's top CEOs do the same? So, Black Out aimed to change this.

Cannes often feels like an unattainable dream, reserved only for the privileged few, typically named John or Sarah. But this year, Cannes was within reach for people like me. We were able to attend every event - a rare opportunity that we made the most of (I have the 5325 ear piercings from Pinterest Beach to prove it).

The talks were informative, the awards inspirational, and the vibes unmatched.

As a creative, solitude can often be my companion, but during BlackOut2023 I had the chance to mingle with like-minded individuals who shared my experiences - rare in this industry!

I don’t know what water they’re sipping over there in other countries, but I need a drop of it because the level of creativity was insane. 

I was constantly in shock and awe at the brilliance. What impressed me the most were the profound insights that underpinned each creative campaign. There was no randomness or convolution; instead, every idea was fortified with a compelling rationale, making the final creative work even more impactful. These insights were clever and interesting, and not at all obvious or mundane.

Each campaign evoked emotions, reaffirming what I already believed – that successful campaigns should have the power to stir something within people.

It should make you think, and the combination of strategic thinking and emotion left a lasting impression on me; I’ll highlight a few.

The USA M&M "Spokescandies" saw the beloved M&M's characters retire and explore various other professions before returning with a fresh new look. This tapped into nostalgia and humour, striking a chord with our enduring affection for these iconic spokes candies.

USA's 'Are You Press Worthy' campaign created an algorithm where users enter their demographic information, and see how much press coverage their story would attract. This campaign was based on the insight that press coverage of missing people is biased against people of colour, with young white women covered extensively. It bravely addressed bias and raised awareness.

India's "Bring Back 2011" campaign brilliantly revolved around the intriguing coincidence of India's Cricket World Cup victory coinciding with Oreo's launch in 2011. By cleverly invoking humour and nostalgia, the campaign aimed to bring back 2011. From bringing back 2011 newspaper front covers, to re-launching 2011 books and reprising 2011 hairstyles, this campaign was funny and tapped into a shared love and pride of cricket in the country.

My hope for the future is that we continue to open the gates of Cannes to all.

It shouldn't just be for top execs but for anyone looking to feel creatively inspired and empowered. But also, to hopefully win a Cannes award that’s as impactful, smart and just bang on as the campaigns I mentioned above.

It may have lasted only a week, but the memories, connections and friends I made will stay imprinted on me forever. So thank you John Doe for supporting me, Black Out, Black British Network and Cephas Williams for bringing little old me to Cannes - I deserved it, we all did.

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