This was my first trip to the Cannes Lions Festival, the never-ending showcase of creativity, advertising, and all things rosé. The festival takes place every year in the South of France. It is also determined to prove to all the naysayers who claim that advertising is dead, that it is still alive, albeit a bit tipsy.
I argued before that creativity is one of the three skills that will be critical in the 21st century. However, countless studies including the one from MIT show that the number of start-ups focusing on automation and artificial intelligence has been doubling every year since 2014. Hence, coming to Cannes, I expected to see companies such as EY, Deloitte, IBM and others jumping ahead of each other showcasing robots and machines that figured out how to replace humans in marketing efficiency. These companies have not disappointed - they all followed the script. However, the work that truly stood out at the festival was created by humans for humans. More often than not, it focused on solving critical human issues - from how to turn discrimination into opportunity with the "Go Back To Africa" campaign by Black & Abroad coalition (produced by FCB) to a wonderful and very powerful campaign by Donate Life California called "Second Chances"(produced by Casanova/McCann).
The campaign that stood out for me was the one produced by Alma and Manuel Oliver. On February 13th, the life of the Oliver family turned upside down. Their son, Joaquin, a 17-year-old Parkland, Florida high school student was murdered in his school along with 16 others in a mass shooting incident. There were 23 school shootings recorded in the U.S. in 2018 killing 113 people. Joaquin was one of the kids whose life was taken away not because he was Hispanic or different, but because he was in the right place at the wrong time.
Joaquin was a great American kid, whose family emigrated from Latin America to find a better and more peaceful life for their children. They chose Parkland, Florida because statistically it was one of the safest areas in the U.S. It was until that fateful Valentine's Day in 2018. One day earlier Joaquin told his dad that he wanted to pick up flowers for his girlfriend and that he would call his dad the moment after he delivered them to her at school. Joaquin delivered the flowers, but never managed to call his father. He was randomly picked up by a gunman and shot three times. The family waited in agony for hours just to hear horrible news many hours later.
Manuel not only lost his son, but he also lost his purpose in life. The family was devastated and could not determine how to pull themselves together. Fortunately, they received a call from Luis Miguel Messianu's team at Alma who decided that it was time for change. According to Mr. Messianu, "The Alma team had an affinity to Mr. Oliver's tragedy because they were from Latin America and both of them wanted real change in America's fight against gun violence". Mr. Messianu wanted to demonstrate that creativity was a force for good and that together they could create a movement. The opportunity presented itself because it was at the same time when the first 3D printed gun was being introduced in America, and Mr. Messianu decided to reach out to the Oliver family to pitch a unique idea. He asked whether Mr. Oliver would be OK if the Alma team were to use the same 3D printing technology that was used in the gun printing industry to print a live statue of Joaquin, Mr. Oliver's late son. At first Mr. Oliver thought the Alma team was insane, but an hour later they were discussing ways to make it a movement and not just a blitz campaign.
This was the beginning of the Change The Ref movement. In its powerful documentary called "3D Activist" Mr. Oliver tells the story of his son and argues that we need to go beyond the 24-hour news cycle and do something about the issue. The statue of Joaquin with a flower he bought for his girlfriend on that fateful day is a symbol of resistance. Mr. Oliver told me in an interview that he didn't want his son to be remembered as a victim, but as an activist. According to him "We deserve better as a nation. This is a social problem and saving lives is a challenge bigger than this campaign. I believe change will not come from Capitol Hill, but from the people. I believe in a bottom up approach to enact change. We, as a nation, did it with the tobacco industry, and we can do it with the gun industry as well." Mr. Oliver wanted people to know that he is not against abolishing the second amendment right, but he is vigorously against how the NRA made us interpret it. He states that the right to bear arms is not a need to bear arms as the NRA promotes it.
Mr. Messianu, whose company created the campaign said: "I was fed up with the awards. We wanted the real change to be the award. Creativity is a weapon of choice and we wanted to use it to help the Olivers in their fight".
The campaign also included a very powerful stunt featuring Hallmark-style sympathy cards that people could buy in case someone they know dies in a mass shooting. It created a strong visual impact on store visitors and served as a reminder that the issue has become mainstream.
Mr. Oliver hopes that companies, not just individuals, will eventually rally behind the movement to improve gun safety laws through the "Gun certified" program, but so far none of the Fortune 500 companies signed up. However, Mr. Oliver, supported by the Alma ad agency, along with millions of others who support the movement, are not backing down. They are determined to continue marching forward until the issue is resolved.
Mr. Oliver also wanted people to know that even if God asked him 18 years ago whether he wanted a son who would only live until he turned 17, he would definitely say yes.
Joaquin was worth it, so are thousands of other sons and daughters who left us because of loose American gun laws.