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A Transformative Journey for MSQ's Young Lions

MSQ sent two of its designers out to Cannes Lions to experience the festival as Young Lions

By Dee Dalencour and Conor Smith

Immersed in the world's premier creative festival, two young talented creatives gained a fresh perspective on the industry. From embracing accessibility and diversity to redefining purpose and brand trust, Cannes left an indelible mark on their creative souls. Join the Young Lions as they unveil their newfound insights and reflect on the power of Cannes to shape the future of advertising.

‘Get more of us out there’ was the cry from last year’s MSQ’s Young Lions in this Creative Salon piece after they got a young creative’s dream ticket and were sent out for an all-expenses paid ticket to the festival.

Luckily for us, MSQ listened, and ran their Young Lions competition for a second year. And we were privileged enough to represent the group for 2023.

Thanks to that aforementioned article, we headed off to La Croisette with a few useful pieces of advice from our MSQ Young Lions alumni. Drink plenty of water. Don’t just go to see the celebrity talks. Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone. Book Monday off.

We heeded some of these words of wisdom. We evidently missed a few as well, as we’re still struggling to comprehend the magnitude of what we just witnessed.

But we’ve come back with learnings of our own. Some that we hope gives us all a sense of where the industry is today. Some key bits of insight we’ll be immediately applying to our own work. And some thoughts are about milk.

The biggest theme of the festival for us began with ‘A’…

…But it wasn’t AI. We were so inspired by attending a number of talks on Accessibility. Improving access for users by going way beyond the usual colour contrast standards and the routine stuff we’re taught at art school. One of the best quotes of the entire festival came from KR Liu, Head of Brand Accessibility at Google: “When we design to accommodate those with disabilities, we’re actually designing for everyone.”

Fail fast? How about Plan Hard?

Yes, we know ‘failing fast’ is another industry buzz term. And there’s merit to it. But it was fascinating to see how so many great pieces of work that hit those accessibility notes succeeded because the team integrated designing for diverse audiences earlier on in the process. It’s not an afterthought, bring it in from the start.

Speaking of diversity…

It’s improving. We were concerned that it would be just another buzzword, that I (Dee) would be the only person of colour in the room, as I got used to being at design school and in plenty of meetings I’ve attended over the years. So we were excited to attend so many talks with diverse panels, and to meet so many incredible, diverse people along the way. It’s still nowhere near there yet, but if we were expecting to come back infuriated at how lacking in diversity Cannes was, we were wrong (great to see the festival walking the walk on accessibility too – almost every talk we attended had sign language facilities and closed captions).

…But don’t forget the ‘I’

Another favourite quote from the festival? It’s not a new line, but it was reiterated and hit us hard: ‘Diversity is inviting people to a party, but Inclusion is allowing them to dance’.

Do you have any idea how big the industry is?

Maybe you do. But this was our first Cannes, and we realised just how much we’re stuck in our little designer boxes. Cannes felt freeing, like we were part of something bigger. That’s why you need to send your own Young Lions next year.

We still can’t quite believe it’s all free

Naïve Cannes Young Lions quote #367 – but Conor is still waiting at the RTL party for the barman to come back with a card machine for the free rose he tried to buy.

Inspire change early

Just as being a Young Lion has taught us so much about how to be a senior award-winning creative, some of the best work we saw was aimed at changing behaviours of young people so it benefits them in later life. Having conversations on the ground floor, rather than when the elevator has left, is smarter, easier and is the type of work we want to do.

You can have a purpose and also be sick of that word

Yep, the word purpose was thrown around a lot. But what Cannes showed us was that you can have a purpose and not feel guilty if it’s not immediately centred around curing world hunger. Curing world hunger would be nice, but we don’t always get those briefs (yet). If your purpose is to encourage young people to eat less sugar, to give a community a voice, or even just to give someone five minutes of escapism, that can be empowering.

There’s a lot to unite the US and UK, but a lot to divide us too…

Perhaps the best thing about MSQ’s Young Lions scheme is that it brings together creatives from different offices. We didn’t know each other beforehand. We’ve become mates for life now. But we didn’t realise how much time we’d spend explaining unique US or UK idioms to each other. This goes way beyond calling trousers ‘pants’.

…But we still have a lot more in common than France…

…Where it seems they’ve never heard of oat milk.

There’s a fine line between conviction and arrogance…

And whilst I hope we never cross it, it was empowering to see leaders talk so passionately about particular projects. An unwavering belief that what they’re doing can change the world often seemed to be what helped their work take a step closer to making change happen.

Brands are trusted

On that conviction point, we heard a lot of talk about brand trust and the notion of ‘it’s only advertising’. But we were convinced during the week by just how strongly brands ARE trusted… and if that’s the case, how we must recognise our responsibilities as marketers to those who trust us. That goes for everyone on a marketing project… and is easier said than done.

Ultimately, you can’t fail to come back from Cannes inspired…

Because not only do we want to win Lions ourselves and create amazing work that changes the world, we want to someday be important enough to get tickets to the Spotify Beach gigs. That seems the most difficult industry goal of all.

Dee Dalencour is a Senior Designer at Elmwood New York. Conor Smith is a Senior A/V Designer at 26. The pair were chosen to represent MSQ at Cannes as part of the group’s Young Lions scheme.


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