The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Climate Change Extinction Rebellion Cannes Lions

Cannesdemonium: Extinction Rebellion crashes Cannes Lions to rally ad industry


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

June 19, 2019 | 6 min read

Extinction Rebellion has been at Cannes Lions this week urging the ad industry to act on the climate and ecological emergency facing the world. But its mission has turned sour after scrapes with security during a peaceful protest at the festival.

Extinction Rebellion in Cannes

Extinction Rebellion tells Cannes to 'tell the truth' on the climate

According to the group, 14 protestors were arrested on the steps of the Palais, but The Drum understands that they have been released without custody or charges.

The environmental activists last month wrote a strongly-worded letter addressing the advertising industry, demanding brands and agencies use their powers of persuasion to tackle the global climate and ecological emergency.

William Skeaping, a former creative strategist at ad agency McCann London and a prominent player within Extinction Rebellion – has been meeting advertising execs throughout this week in Cannes. He has been attempting to persuade them to get them on board the sustainability agenda in light of a prediction from the UN that we only have 12 years left to limit climate change disaster.

Live from the scene, he tweeted: "Came hoping we could get the advertising industry to help tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency but now have a sinking feeling that we're totally fucked."

But things have now turned less cordial, with The Drum's Rebecca Stewart capturing footage of protestors, mostly from the French and Swedish wings of the group, being removed from Cannes' main Palais des Festivals venue.

Cannes Lions issued the following statement: “We are aware of the small protest which occurred today here in Cannes. Festival Security and local authorities have managed the situation and events are continuing to run as normal.”

Images of the protestors' arrest and removal from the red carpet were shared on Twitter.

The Drum editor Stephen Lepitak sat down to talk to Skeaping who said: "We are going after industries around the world who have an amazing ability to change how people around the world act and think and consume. Advertisers can work with their brands and audiences to wake everyone up to the issue and tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency.

"[Cannes] is the place where everyone is together and we can talk to them all. There is cognitive dissonance and we all have to play a role in solving this crisis together.

"We asked the event owners for a platform to talk about these issues... [police] have been incredibly heavy handed with us. We want proximity to these people to talk about these issues but we have been singled out like some sort of terrorist group almost, we are committed to non-violent civil disobedience and their paranoia speaks volumes for how potentially guilty they feel about this crisis.

"Wake up speak to your brands and audiences. Some agencies and professionals have got in touch with us… significant agencies have been amazing and incredibly open and it is important for everyone to get on board this."

He concluded: "We are coming back here next year with 10,000 people."

Phil Thomas, chief executive of Cannes Lions, told The Drum: We spoke with Extinction Rebellion and we looked to find a solution as we know there are many organizations here who aim to engage with brands and saw Extinction Rebellion saw that opp as well. We agreed that we would try to find a platform through various ways but unfortunately, the authorities would not agree to allow that and we were forced to reluctantly withdraw that offer."

Listen to the interview below.

Earlier this year, Extinction Rebellion organised 11 days of marches and disruption across London, targeting the seats of power such as the stock exchange and parliament

Joe Wade, the founding partner of creative agency Don’t Panic, explained in The Drum how the ad industry can live up to Extinction Rebellion's demands and help save the world.

He boldly remarked: "We had better start getting this right. Let’s face it: in a post-apocalyptic society, the only utility of advertising people will be as crossbow targets or a Sunday spit-roast."

David Gamble, founder and executive creative director of Truant London, also recently wrote in The Drum that climate change has a branding problem. He said: "We need to make the destruction of our planet’s ecosystems sound absolutely terrifying, the solution achievable and the participation in that solution mandatory."

Much to this tune, WWF has developed and is touring a British phone box that’s been taken over by nature and wild natural plants to encourage the public to speak out on the climate crisis.

Climate Change Extinction Rebellion Cannes Lions

More from Climate Change

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +