Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow

| | No Comments
Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow

Léon Bristow, junior creative at Colenso BBDO was selected to take part in both the Cannes Can: Diversity Collective and Cannes Creative Academy. Here, Bristow reflects on his valuable time in Cannes, exclusive to Campaign Brief.


It was my first time to Cannes and it was an absolute ride! I was fortunate enough to be a part of both the Cannes Can: Diversity Collective, and Cannes Creative Academy, which meant my week was double booked morning to afternoon, and you can best believe the nights were never short of places to go and people to see.

Cannes Creative Academy

So, according to another student with a “reliable source”, the Creative Academy had over 900 applicants from all over the world. I don’t know if that’s true but I’m certainly not going to argue with it. And of all the applicants only 30 were accepted to take part, and one of them was me.

Our classroom was situated on the Cannes campus right next to the Young Lions space, which was surreal to think the whole world was in the room next door.

Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow

It was a bit like being thrown in the deep end of creativity. Speaker after speaker after speaker every day of the festival that we were almost drowning in creative information. AI was by far the topic of the week, and for the most part all of the speakers were pitching it hard to us. Although an interesting angle I hadn’t heard before was, “Chat GPT is intentionally bad to garner users without the fear of intimidation” – Allison Apperson & Chase Zreet (The Martin Agency)

Out of all the speakers, David Shing deserves a glorious mention. If you know, you know, and if you don’t, then you should know. Just look at his Linkedin profile and his last four job titles are Digital Prophet. Which doesn’t surprise me at all. Not only was he like a guru of digital creativity, but more importantly, of life. “Go where you’re celebrated, hang out with a tribe that celebrates you”.

Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow

A favourite moment of the academy was when we recreated the jury for digital craft. The session was only a short timeframe, so we judged about eight pieces. After sitting quietly and listening to speaker after speaker we didn’t hold back on vocalising our opinions. I will say it did conjure some firey passionate speeches, and it turns out that the piece we ranked the highest was judged as the winning Grand Prix Lion – Spotify Spreadbeats

Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow

The lowlight was not mine but another creative in the academy, who had his phone stolen, which then ended up at a casino in Nice. Makes for a great story, fortunately unfortunately not mine.

Cannes Can Diversity Collective

In 2017 Adrienne C. Smith was one of only 200 people of colour out of approximately 200,000 to attend the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. So, in 2018 she went on to create The Cannes Can: Diversity Collective (CC:DC), addressing the lack of Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) in the advertising, marketing, communications and creative industries. Moving beyond concern, to action, increasing opportunities for people of colour and underrepresented communities to be represented at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

What started six years ago has evolved into a cohort of more than 100 young people from six continents and eleven countries. It was a mixed bag from illustrators, to directors, executives, content creators, etc. The morning I woke up to the congratulation email my mind was blown. Travel from New Zealand to Cannes can cost an arm and a leg, then there’s food and accommodation, so it’s usually reserved for the big dogs of the industry, Young Lions winners, but now me.

Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow

The program consisted of a scheduled lineup of speakers relevant to DE&I, notable names were Queen Latifa and John Legend. Unfortunately for me, most of the schedule clashed with my academy schedule, which took first precedence – but every moment with CC:DC was so enriching.

Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow

Here comes the sloppy – my heart was so full leaving Cannes on Saturday thanks to this insanely talented cohort. It was a classic story of starting as strangers and ending as family. But honestly, after all the initiatives and cohorts I’ve had the pleasure of being part of this one hit differently. The people were so full of life and love for each other. I can honestly say, hand on heart, I felt a sense of belonging that I’ve rarely felt in corporate spaces.

The end of Cannes for me wasn’t the closing party on the beach with the fireworks, endless fountains of free alcohol, and really good DJ, although it was very well curated. The special end of Cannes was our pre-party CC:DC dinner, which we called ‘The Last Supper’. We’d had our official scheduled farewell; this was just one we organised to toast our rosés a final time.

Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow

As I left the Cannes international Festival of Creativity and Cannes Can: Diversity Collective, I remember someone asked, “How are you going to spend your privilege?”. A small-town Maori/Samoan from simple beginnings, was just given an all-expenses paid seat to the Olympics of advertising. How now am I going to use this experience to create more seats for my community to join me?

Hot Tips

Do not rest until you hear everyone in the morning saying, “that was the best night”. I made the responsible mistake of telling myself I was going to have an early Wednesday night to sleep off the jetlag and end Thursday and Friday on a high, only to be sorely disappointed to find out, come morning, that Wednesday was the night to be out. Don’t do it people.

WhatsApp groups give you the what’s up. This probably wasn’t as applicable to the Aotearoa Cannes WhatsApp but the Academy and CC:DC WhatsApp groups were blasting my notifications with link after link, some even google spreadsheets of all that’s going on. But definitely read the room and extra messages to find out what’s hot and what’s not.

Kiwis do not flock. Kiwis are humble little independent birds that mind their own business, and scoot back to their burrow. I was a Kiwi, and the rest of Cannes were seagulls. The flocking was hardcore. I swear it must have taken Queen Latifa half an hour to move 20 meters down the main drag of the festival. “You can be hungry, but don’t be thirsty” – Vann Graves (Creative Academy Dean)

Go to the award shows. This was advice my mentor Aaron Starkman (Global CCO, Rethink) gave me, and he was not wrong. I was completely double booked the whole festival but luckily the academy schedule had incorporated an awards show. Not only did I get to witness Colenso take out gold for Adoptables, but also Aaron Starkman win two golds for Heinz. I left completely inspired, but also with a feeling of ‘I can do that’.

I just wanted to wrap up by saying a big thank you to everyone who supported me to be a part of such a once in a lifetime opportunity. Especially Cannes Can: Diversity Collective, and sponsors, for considering and believing in me to be a part of such a talented cohort. And the Creative Academy for accepting my application to be a part of the next generation of creative leaders. Thank you also to all the amazing people I met on my trip. This is definitely locked in as a core memory.

Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow Cannes Lions 2024 recap: Léon Bristow