At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2015, former US vice president and founder of The Climate Reality Project Al Gore was engaged in conversation with WPP founder-CEO Sir Martin Sorrell. Sorrell asked Gore if he would issue a challenge to the advertising industry to embrace the issue of climate change.
A year later, the same Cannes Debate stage witnessed the six largest advertising holding companies – Dentsu, Havas, IPG, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe and WPP – pledge their collective support and action to realise the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have been signed on by 193 countries, in the presence of UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon.
The initiative billed ‘Common Ground’ also sees each of the holding companies adopting one of the key issues the SDGs seek to address.
Finding common ground
Speaking at the festival on 24 June, Moon thanked the holding company chiefs for setting aside their differences as competitors and expressing solidarity with the SDGs.
“Solidarity means the difference between despair and hope,” said the secretary general.
Sixty five years ago, in the Korean war, he watched his village burn down behind them as he and his family sought safety in the mountainside, he said, when he was six years old.
“We came back to rubble. I studied under the shade of trees (sic). The United Nations came immediately after the war. They provided us with textbooks, food, clothes, security. The United Nations was a beacon of hope. The United Nations was our lifeline,” said Moon, who flew in from Havana, having witnessed the end of the 52-year-old civil war, with rebels Farc signing a ceasefire deal.
People cried with happiness and shed tears of joy as weapons were laid down, said Moon, adding that they would be melted to create a tribute to peace.
“It is another example, that despite the turmoil in the world, we can find common ground. When we work together, we can succeed,” he said.
“I am here to ask for your help. All of you have tremendous power to shape opinion. Help us create the biggest campaign ever for humanity. The SDG is the most ambitious vision – and blueprint – to make the world much better, leaving no one behind. You can help make these ambitious goals a reality,” explained the UN secretary general.
Moon appealed to the advertising fraternity to simplify the 17 goals and 169 targets set to be achieved by 2030, to make it an inclusive agenda amongst all stakeholders ranging from corporates to the common man.
Joining Moon on stage to pledge their support were holding company chiefs Yannick Bollore (Havas), Michael Roth (IPG), John Wren (Omnicom), Maurice Levy (Publicis Groupe) and Sorrell. Dentsu CEO Tadashi Ishi pledged support through a video message.
Besides the one issue each adopted by the six holding companies through ‘Common Ground’, Sorrell appealed to agencies outside the group of six to help with one aspect of the SDGs.
Noting that it was ironic that the conversation on ‘Common Ground’ was happening in the backdrop of Britain voting to leave the European Union, Sorrell said, “We want to open up the issue of refugees beyond this group of six. We’re asking for other agency groups to step up and help us implement SDGs with respect to refugees and immigration.”