Winning a Cannes Lions made me a climate criminal. So I crushed the scene to make it

One of the biggest and most controversial publicity events in the world, the Cannes Lions Festival, has just ended. I was there once, as a winner and as a member of the jury. Last night I came back, but this time as a Greenpeace activist to give back the awards I’ve won working for airlines and automakers and to peacefully demand a new law banning fuel advertising and sponsorship fossils. I crashed the party, got banned from the festival and made it awkward. This is my story.

A Greenpeace France activist, former winner and jury of the Cannes Lions Awards – the famous advertising festival – interrupted the opening ceremony in Cannes to return an award he won for an airline advertisement. © Greenpeace

I received my first award at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in 2007. It was for a major car manufacturer and getting recognition for creative work was a game changer for me and the agency I ran. We were considered one of the best teams for promoting new cars and I felt nothing but excitement and joy when I took the stage to collect the award. For me, the award symbolized achievement and proof that I was doing the right thing.

But soon things started to change. Al Gore’s An inconvenient truth told me and many others that we were headed for climate catastrophe and that excessive consumption of fossil fuels had to stop. I felt the industry had to do its part, so I agreed to work for Scandinavian Airlines on an article that encouraged people to travel short distances by train rather than plane.

The commercials for this idea were excellent and I was awarded the Cannes Lions again. This time, I felt relieved, because I was convinced that the system was working: big ideas could solve the crisis. The big polluters seemed to be changing for the better, and they needed good publicity and talent to make that happen quickly.

But have they really changed? In 2015, the Paris Agreement was signed. The same year, the climate criminal Shell, aided by his agency MediaCom, was awarded the Lion for “best corporate sponsorship”. By then Scandinavian Airlines had ended its rail collaboration to focus on selling cheap plane tickets and received an award for a “fun social media experience showing that people like to travel fast” .

Since the Paris Agreement, at least 300 awards have been given to Cannes Lions to ads for more air travel, oil companies that greenwash and ads that make cars with polluting combustion engines more desirable.

Now, in 2022 – and even in the face of appalling environmental consequences, wars and neo-colonialism perpetrated by the fossil fuel industry – major ad agencies are choosing to continue collaborating with climate criminals in order to delay the action we we urgently need to fight against the climate crisis. For the first time this year, the IPCC report clearly exposed this strategy of deception and delay by saying that access to the media through advertising blocks much-needed scientific work and political action.

The strategy is also to blame individuals and focus on how THEY should resolve the crisis. BP’s ‘carbon footprint calculator’ asking people to assess their own emissions is a twisted decision to focus on individual consumption instead of finding a solution to the systemic problems they have created.

This year, the Cannes Lions Festival is promoting “Let consumers see their impact” as one of their sustainability focus areas (you can find it under the heading “It pays to be green” on their website). Only a few agencies have internal restrictions or policies when it comes to profiting from helping the world’s worst polluters. They even celebrate it on the Côte d’Azur.

The ad industry is acting like the “This Is Fine” meme: Enjoying their drink and pretending everything is fine, while the house is burning. War on children? Its good. Incessant droughts and floods? Its good. The hottest summer in history? Its good.

That’s why I chose to come back to the Cannes Lions ceremony this year, take the microphone and interfere with the publicity awards. Cannes Lions claims to be the “home of creativity”, I’m here to say there is no creativity on a dead planet.

I gave the advertising industry more than two decades of my professional life. I can’t do this anymore. I cannot accept that so much talent and money is spent helping the fossil fuel industry literally get away with murder.

More than 30 organizations have launched a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) calling for a new law banning fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship in the European Union. If an ECI reaches one million verified signatures in a year, the European Commission is legally bound to respond and consider implementing the requirements into European law.

Together we can help improve the advertising industry and help stop all fossil fuel advertising forever.

Gustav Martner is Creative Manager at Greenpeace Nordic. He is based in Gamelestaden, Sweden.

The original version of this article was published by euro news June 21, 2022.

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