A letter of protest: Why I cut my Cannes Lion in half and sent it back
Dear Philip Thomas,
I’d like to return my Lion. It used to stand for something. And now it’s broken.
I called my mum when I heard the news we’d won. “It’s the Oscars of advertising mum.” I cried a bit. She cried. Like many creatives starting out I was skint. And I knew my life was about to change.
An anonymous protest letter to Cannes Lions
Cannes was the Everest of awards. I felt like Sir Edmund Hillary. My art director and I belonged to a club. Something people recognised. The gold standard, even though we’d only won a silver.
And sure enough, the phone started to ring. Doors opened. We stopped having to worry about paying the rent. I could finally buy an engagement ring for my wife. She said yes.
It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
That was nearly fifteen years ago. Since then the glitter has tarnished somewhat. We’ve watched you get bloated. A cash cow creaming off agency hubris. But to your credit when Publicis called you out on it, you held your hands up. Simplified. Rationalised. It looked as though you’d gotten back to your roots. But it seems we were wrong.
Philip, you’re about to commit an act of monumental self-harm. You’ve invited ex Cambridge Analytica boss, Alexandra Nix to take part. He used the illegally harvested Facebook data of millions to rob us of a fair vote in our referendum. And pretty soon, I won’t be a European anymore. I’ll be stranded on an island with Nigel Farage.
And then of course there’s the U.S.A.
As I write this the Chinooks and Black Hawks are hovering over London as thousands take to the streets to protest. One of the most reviled Presidents in history is in town.
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If the ongoing House Judiciary investigation finds Nix did indeed skew the election for Trump, the repercussion of his actions are devastating. Not just for U.S. citizens, but for the entire planet.
He will have played a part in walkbacks on global climate pledges, abortion and gun rights. Brought us border walls, and helped usher in a wave of nationalism sweeping the world. Emboldened dictators from Russia to North Korea.
Nix has bragged about using prostitutes to entrap politicians and he’s an on-record racist.
He helped steal our democracies. And now he’s stealing your reputation. And by default, the reputation of advertising as a whole too.
A little slice of every entry fee from every agency around the world goes into this man’s pockets. Collectively we’re helping to rehabilitate a man whose actions are likely to reverberate around the world for decades.
Philip, let’s give you the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and assume this isn’t, as some have suggested, a cheap tactic to get bums on seats – a grotesque conference cabaret. What do you hope to gain? Surely not meaningful debate. He lied to our parliament. He’s hardly likely to cave under the pressure of too many canapes and a few glasses or overpriced rose.
You’ve made a cardinal advertising error. You’ve got your audience wrong. I’ve not spoken to a single person who thinks this a good idea.
In fact, a lot of us are as mad as hell. And not just in adland. Your decision has left academics, political commentators and journalists scratching their heads. Even my mum is pissed off.
Philip. We are entering the era of Purpose. To stay relevant brands need to find one. You, of all people should understand that. Nike has Colin Kaepernick. We need you - to make a stand.
So respectfully, on behalf of advertising professionals everywhere. On behalf of the millions about to have their European status revoked. On behalf of the people fighting to regain control of their democracies. For the victims of rape who can no longer legally have an abortion. For those having their lives upended by a rising tide of nationalism. On behalf of my Bulgarian friend who had his kidneys kicked in during a racist attack in North London.
We invite you to act.
Get on the right side of history.
Remove Alexander Nix from the lineup.
And fix Cannes.
Mad as hell
The writer of this letter has asked to remain anonymous.