Kyoko Matsushita, Global CEO at GroupM agency Essence, shares insights from the virtual judging room at Cannes Lions.

What stood out for you about the Media Lions Grand Prix winners?

Telenor Pakistan’s ‘Naming the Invisible by Digital Birth Registration’ really stood out for all of us. It impressed me in the way it leveraged technology to drive innovation and change for social good. It was a great example of how brands can take their commitment to social responsibility seriously. ‘Boards of Change’ was really inspiring, tackling issues of systemic disempowerment of the black community head-on in such a simple, powerful and impactful way – getting business results as well. It captured the emotions of the moment.

Both campaigns fulfilled the areas that we evaluate as judges, from strategy and planning to execution and business results. But there's something more to it, a personal, emotional connection that each and every one of us felt as judges, and that's why they're Grand Prix winners. One of the judges said, ‘If I were to tell my daughter why I'm proud of what I do in this industry, this work is going to represent it.’ It was such an emotional thing for all of us.

Beyond the two Grand Prix, which entries were you most excited by?

Association L'Enfant Bleu’s ‘Undercover Avatar’ is one I advocated for. I'm a mom of two kids, and both of my children love gaming. It used an in-game character to help children speak up in a safe environment about issues of bullying, violence and child abuse, which was especially important with a pandemic and lockdown. The execution was so beautiful and peaceful, not scary or violent at all. It had really good business results, and drove the French government to take action. Gaming can do a lot of social goods as well, and I come from a gaming industry myself, so it really stood out.

The second entry I advocated was The Bread Exam’ by Spinney’s Flour and the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation. It’s a country where it’s taboo to talk about breast cancer, even among women. Even for me as a woman, it was a cultural learning for everyone. You have to use everyday tools or situations to talk about the subject and to educate. In this case women were educated by a chef on how to bake bread, but it was actually about how to self-test. It was really eye opening for all of us, that there are situations where you have to find innovative, creative ways to gain awareness.

What kinds of trends did you see cropping up across the winners?

Gaming, and a kind of augmented connectedness. I call it augmented connectedness because many real-life challenges and problems are captured right in the world of virtual gaming. Heightened emotional responses that people have in that virtual environment are amplified through all the key digital platforms. Augmented connectedness was portrayed not just from gaming companies, but also other brands. Tourism, for example, moved into the gaming world to actually have people experience things, and used digital platform to communicate that. Real world and virtual worlds are coming together.

The second trend was about female empowerment, in driving changes in technology. We saw some really bold examples of this in both 2020 and 2021, raising awareness of some of the things that are often categorised as ‘women's issues’ but not discussed as societal ones. We have seen more examples of this in the past 10 years, but one of the disappointments for me is that we still don't have enough work capturing the invisible. This is an area we need to do more in and deliver at scale, because these are global problems.

A third emerging theme was greater human kindness during one of the toughest periods we've experienced globally in recent times. I saw this theme driving innovation and invention. For example, a desire to be kinder to the planet, and finding new ways to connect and collaborate differently.  

You’ve mentioned some things that concerned you. Were there any other disappointments among the entries?

Going back to my point around augmented connectedness, while a lot of the submissions showed good intentions to be helpful, I felt some were overtly opportunistic and really focused on short-term sales, resulting in mediocre outcomes and execution. Sometimes the industry takes advantage of gamers being in front of a computer for half a day – kids who are basically addicted, who are ordering junk food in. Brands can do better in that context, but I give still give credit to gaming publishers because they really understood other issues like child abuse, and they have the potential to influence on a massive scale.

What one learning from the judging will you take on board for your own role?

We all have opinions, but we should remain open-minded to having our opinions changed. When I looked at the work and listened to insights from the other jury members, it was clear that I was going in with my own background and my own perspective on things. It was a reminder of the power of listening, learning and remaining open-minded to having my opinions and theories changed.