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Bill Clinton's Seminar Review, Cannes Lions, 2012

People exiting the Grand Auditorium after Bill Clinton's speechAt the 59th annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, it was a figure from outside the advertising “family” that generated its greatest excitement.

Waiting in line in the hot French sun for over two hours, the queue for the seminar stretched from the red steps of the famous Grand Auditorium and winded all the way through the park as thousands of delegates patiently waited to see the man still known as "Mr. President".

As we were ushered in you felt that this was a special seminar, one that would live in the memory for many years. In comparison to previous years, even Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt fell short of garnering the level of anticipation the former President brought.

Introduced by the CEO of Brazilian communication agency Grupo ABC, Bill Clinton walked into the packed Grand Auditorium to a blaze of camera flashes and, for the first time in my experience of Cannes, a standing ovation.

Clinton was quick to laud the agencies and groups responsible for inviting him to speak, before addressing some of the largest global humanitarian issues facing the world today.

From Greece to Greenland: Global Health and Economics

Lasting 45 minutes, Clinton's speech ranged from the struggles faced by Greece and the Arab Spring counties to the Haiti disaster, the Brazilian rainforests, the melting of the polar ice caps in Greenland, global financial inequality and the unsustainable growth trajectory of the human population. He even stopped to addressed the ground-breaking work done by CERN with the Large Hadron Collider, the speed of neutrinos, the possibility of the fourth dimension and his favourite TV commercial, all the while interjecting with his trademark wit and humour that typified his eight years stint as a charismatic world leader.

It’s one of the greatest phenomena of the century and it’s happening all over the world.

Bill Clinton on the rise of private charity and NGOs

What became clear as his speech continued was that he did not wish to give a laymen’s crash course on advertising to the thousands of experts in the theatre. Instead, Clinton's role was to highlight - with great insight one might add - the humanitarian issues we all face and how the great creative minds in attendance could shift their mindset and direction to making campaigns for the greater good, with Cannes Lions in turn recognising the benefit of awarding such responsible campaigns.

He cited the Haiti relief fund where his charity – The William J. Clinton Foundation – helped get the US public to donate in the region of $1 billion, approximately $26 per person, and the unique situation occuring in the early 21st century where more private citizens and NGOs were “seeking to go public good than ever before” towards common causes.

He citied many positive, forward thinking projects happening in the globe, from the natural resource conservation policies of the Brazilian oil and energy companies, to solar power panel projects occurring in Germany and how Costa Rica is leading the world in renewable energy (75–80% hydro power, 12% geothermal, and 3%–5% oil).

Keep the borders open.. immigration not only makes life more interesting, it's essential to prosperity.

Bill Clinton on Immigation

Perhaps what struck the biggest chord with those in attendance was his statement that "Genetically, we are 99.5% the same yet we spend our time concerned or fighting about ..the 0.5 percent that's different..", i.e. skin-colour, weight, height, religion.

He referenced the immigration laws currently in the US as an example and praised Barack Obama for his forward thinking approach to deportation policy, insisting that foreign immigrants also bring wealth and culture that is required if counties are to advance. Instancing the influx of North Africans to France and the subsequent public unrest felt by many native French people, Bill Clinton said that is only natural and that counties need to learn to communicate better and understand one another for the greater good of all.

How Advertising Can Help Build a Better World

Bill Clinton leaving the stage at Cannes Lions 2012Clinton said that the world needs creative thinkers to help “empower people” and install in each of them a sense of hope. He praised advertisers for their ability to compile and present facts in a way that viewers could understand a situation and subsequently do something about it.

“It's what citizens of the world need... We need people like you to fire our imagination and fill our brains as well as our hearts... Overcoming inherent resistance to hearing information that people don’t believe is the advertiser’s stock and trade.”

“There is a need for an empowerment ethic that tells people they can make a difference, explain that it’s worth trying because of who they are trying to help, that they are not worthless and they should not fear getting up everyday because they believe nothing good will happen. You can do that. You can make people feel they can create positive change.”

And if we can do that, and "make people laugh like the dog collar advert", then all the better!