The Cannes Lions awards gala Wednesday evening was one of the best for Canada in recent memory, producing a total of 17 Lions— including a Grand Prix and five Golds.
FCB led the way, with its “Runner 321” campaign for Adidas, which won the Direct Lions Grand Prix, as well as Gold and Silver in PR, and Bronze in Social and Influencer.
The agency’s “NXT LVL” campaign for the Bank of Montreal also won a Gold Social & Influencer Lion, and completed the haul with a Bronze for Sobey’s “Trending to Table.”
“Runner 321” was launched for Adidas last March as part of the brand’s efforts to make sport and athletics more inclusive and representative. It shone a spotlight on Chris Nikic, who is the first person with Down syndrome to complete a triathlon, and was about to run the Boston Marathon when the campaign launched. It called on marathons around the world—many of which are sponsored by Adidas competitors—to reserve runner bib #321 for runners with Down syndrome.
The number 321 was chosen because most people with Down syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21 and the number has symbolic significance in the community.
During the press conference with journalists on Wednesday morning, jury president Chaka Sobhani, Leo Burnett’s global chief creative officer, said the jury saw “a huge body of work that was very light and had joy at its heart and was there to entertain.”
But there was also a lot of work focusing on the roles brands play in the fight for human rights, inclusivity, representation and equality. “And I know this has probably been talked about a lot, and we’re all very aware of it, but it’s not just the need, it’s the absolute necessity for it to be 100% authentic, because people will sniff it out.”
That critical requirement was at the core of Adidas and FCB winning the Grand Prix—though the jury debated long and hard about the decision. “We had a bit of a debate, a bit of a tussle,” said Sobhani. “And [‘Runner 321’] came through for all the right reasons.
“This brand has consistently turned up to make sure that the underrepresented and those who have to fight for equality can lean on them, can see them as a partner,” she said. “And what they’ve done in terms of the partnership with their competitor brands to drive this on a global scale and global events is insane.”
Speaking to The Message, Sobhani said the jury was very “strict and rigid” about staying focused on the target audience for each contender.
“That’s obviously the definition of direct: who are the people, who’s the community we’re talking to—a very targeted community. So of course, it’s the disabled community. And it’s not something that Adidas is just piggybacking on. They have a consistent and long-standing history in terms of supporting not just disabled athletes, but in terms of equality for all.”
But there’s also a second target audience of the able-bodied, she said. “Runner 321” sends them a message about the importance of visibility and representation.
“The thing that we loved about it is it’s actually one of the most direct pieces of collateral you could ever create, because it’s a badge—a person running with a badge that is directly communicating, building relationships, changing opinions, changing minds, and ultimately leading to results,” she said, pointing to the large number of marathons that are often backed by Adidas competitors getting behind the effort. “It could not be a more pure direct idea.”
After winning a Gold and a Silver, “Runner 321” was also in the final discussions for the PR Grand Prix, said jury president Jo-ann Robertson, CEO, Global Markets, Ketchum.
Interestingly, while the Direct Jury credited Adidas for its long-time commitment to inclusivity, the PR jury looked at it as a new commitment to supporting the Down syndrome community, and in the difficult process of separating Gold from Grand Prix, that was enough to ultimately select “Self-Love Bouquet” from Doordash for the top honour.
Edelman’s global creative director Andrew Simon, who was on the jury, said they loved that Adidas chose to inspire a community that often gets overlooked by supporting Nikic the way they did.
“And then they said okay now we’re not only just going to celebrate this athlete in one marathon, we’re going to do it in multiple marathons… the fact that they were able to convince New Balance and Nike etc to support this cause, I give them incredible credit for taking the idea to the next level.”
FCB’s other Gold was for another global client in what is generally considered one of the toughest categories to do innovative work. “NXT LVL” is a Twitch channel where BMO broadcasts streaming content hosted by a “Gaming Relations Specialist.”
During medal discussions, Angry Butterfly co-founder Brent Choi explained the extraordinary legal scrutiny that goes into any bank advertising in Canada. “There must have been so many no’s along the way,” he said. “For someone to be giving real financial advice, live to people that might take it and have financial consequence to that. Like it must have been such a hard sell to get that through.”