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Purpose Driven Tech: A Welcome Evolution at this Year’s Cannes Lions

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New York, USA
INFLUENCER: R/GA Los Angeles ECD Geoff Edwards applauds projects that applied innovation to help people live better and more complete lives
World events have always inspired the creative community. However, this year the movement began at the festival before the Cannes Lions, at the 71st Film Festival de Cannes. 82 women marched on the red carpet in front of the Palais de Festivals representing the number of female directors who have climbed these stairs since the very first Cannes Film Festival in 1946. In the same period 1,688 male directors have climbed these very same stairs. With around 16,000 people descending into Cannes from 95 countries, the number of women who actually get to attend is still dismally low and that needs to change. There were many women’s programs ranging from #TimesUp to #RePicture by Getty Images, a program where women could re-imagine a more inclusive world, to the small but radical #WomenCannes cause where women showed solidarity by wearing black to protest sexual harassment in the office. There were several others but let’s just say the message is working and the numbers are reflecting the outrage. 

I’ve been attending Cannes for the last two decades and have seen the festival evolve to include not only more brand clients, but also increasingly more tech companies, social media platforms, consultancies, entertainment entities, and media companies. Contrary to many people in the ad industry, I welcome this evolution! As executive creative director of R/GA Los Angeles I’m thrilled for this change, and as a Founder of SATURDAY MORNING I’m encouraged by the use of creativity to do good.

The 56th Cannes Lions featured a few examples of “purpose driven tech”, that caught my attention, including, ‘Blink to Speak’, and ‘Project Revoice’ for ALS.

Ad campaigns have always brought awareness to social problems, but by incorporating technology, individuals and brands can take a more active role in helping people live better and more complete lives. 

The Grand Prix for Good was awarded to ‘Project Revoice’ created for the ALS Association from BWM Dentsu, Sydney. This piece literally brought me to tears. ALS is a motor neuron disease. It attacks the cells that control voluntary muscles of the body and affects the brain, spinal cord, speech, and eventually, those afflicted stop breathing. Pat Quinn, co-founder of the ALS Association, lost his voice three years after creating the famous ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’. This campaign dared to see if the man who gave a voice to patients around the world, could keep his own.

Creating a voice for Pat wasn’t complicated but he didn’t want to sound like a computer, he wanted to sound like himself. ALS partnered with a tech firm called Lyrebird, which sampled speeches and interviews to create a replica of his voice. Together, they used the collected audio to create an algorithm that enabled him to successfully speak again. It was a success, and today he can still use his voice to continue to advocate and speak for the ALS community. Amazing!

The Lions Health Grand Prix for Good was awarded to ‘Blink to Speak’ created by TBWA\India. This work garnered five wins on the very first day of the event, which included the Grand Prix for Good, and one Gold, two Silver, and one Bronze award in the Pharma and Health & Wellness categories.

One of the side effects of patients suffering from ALS is spinal meningitis. It affects the brain and motor skills, rendering those with the illness paralyzed. Hospitals in India needed an inexpensive but smart solution to communicate with patients, so ‘Blink to Speak’ was created to give people who could only use their eyes the ability to speak and relay information. The program was achieved in partnership with the Asha EK Hope Foundation and Nora Gen Hospital. They created an eye language guide, app, and other supporting materials. Using 50 simple eye movements patients learned both single words and sentences. And the best part, the book is free. 

Hats off to Cannes Lions this year for not only celebrating creativity but emphasising things that really matter: freedom of expression and purposeful technology. I look forward to watching the festival continue to showcase technology as a complement to creative and seeing the innovative ways in which the industry uses creativity for good.
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