The UAE shows up in an impossibly big way at Cannes Lions

Ali Rez, the multi-award-winning creative head, shares a lot of pride for the UAE

If you walked past the Palais on Monday June 17th, the first day of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year, you’d notice the giant screen at the front of the building which would be displaying the awards ceremony that night.

On the screen, you’d see a jury president hand over the biggest prize of the night – the Grand Prix for Good in Health – to IMPACT BBDO from the UAE. This would be the agency’s fourth Grand Prix in five years, and the fifth for a nation that has consistently been showing up in the biggest way at this festival for the last half decade.

On Tuesday, the second day, on the same screen, you’d see the second Jury President from the UAE in two years (and indeed from the region) presiding over the Industry Craft category. You’d realize that a Jury President seat from the Middle East is now here to stay for ever.

Over the next few days, you would keep hearing other fabulous agencies from the UAE pick up metal cats in several colours, spreading themselves across multiple categories.

Turn a corner from the Palais, and you would see it all encapsulated in a pithy line on a giant poster at the side of the Palais wall, appropriately just above the Winners’ Entrance.

In bright blue letters on an even brighter yellow background, you’d read “The national animal of the UAE: Big Lions.” And underneath, telling of how fast the UAE moves, a subhead that would be outdated already: 4 Grands Prix in 4 years.

We asked Cannes Lions if we could take a ladder and spray paint 5 over it, but they said it was “impossible.”

Impossible? No

That word. Impossible. To hear it at an event which awards and celebrates the kind of work that would be thought impossible by many is of course ironic, but not as ironic when applied to a billboard for the UAE.

Indeed, one of the subheads in the campaign says, “Live in a place where nothing is impossible.” And there it was for me: that feeling of pride to represent a country that truly believes in the ethos of achieving the impossible.

The work from the UAE this year was bolder than ever, work that transcended the medium it represented, that pushed the boundaries of what we thought couldn’t be achieved. But most of all, work that showed up in a big way.

Indeed, this was well encapsulated in yet another billboard seen inside the Palais, displayed to the thousands of creatives who continue to break rules and defy status quo: “Somebody says ‘Let’s put a ginormous palm tree on the map,’ and it happens.” Anywhere else, this would be considered impossible.

But not in the UAE. Because the UAE believes in showing up in an impossibly big way.

By Ali Rez, Chief Creative Officer at Impact BBDO for Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan