What winning at Cannes feels like

Alright, let’s do this one more time.

Here’s another post about the 2023 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity

  • 26,992 Entries.
  • 12 shortlists.
  • Seven Lions.
  • Four Gold.
  • Two Silver.
  • One Bronze.

Seven Lions awarded at the peer reviewed and meticulously judged Cannes Lions. All seven for the Mondelēz International, OREO EU x Xbox Game Studios Publishing partnership, CHEAT COOKIES (or ‘#UnlockPlayfulness’ – market depending), that launched at the turn of 2023.

I led and sold in the strategy for this project when I was at Digitas UK, working with the amazing team at Saatchi & Saatchi Germany, in my role as European Strategy Lead for Mondelez bakery.

The clients have been amazing.

My friends have been amazing.

And my old team have sent a million selfies.

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Looking good, lads – dream creative team of Ian & Gabriel

When I heard the news about winning Silver in the inaugural Entertainment – Gaming Lions, by a jury of led by head judge, Francine Li of Riot Games – well that was special.

According to Cannes, the Entertainment – Gaming Lions are weighted as follows: 20% strategy & insight; 30% creative idea; 30% craft & execution; 20% results.

And we got silver. In the first gaming Lions ever.


And of course, winning a Silver after having only one Bronze to my name for so long was a huge deal.

The following night, when the news broke about the Four Gold Lions?

Well, I cried.

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My old team, picking up another one in person.

I know it sounds mad but – for me – this shit is important. When it comes to the advertising industry, winning a Lion is it. Like that is IT.

People care about all the other awards, sure. But the big one, the one that really chuffing matters – it’s the Cannes Lion.

Winning a Lion at Cannes MATTERS.

I know this because the only other Lion that I have on my portfolio is the Bronze I’m credited on for the 2014 Expedia Group social media activation: Travel Your Tweet Interesting. And I’ve always been proud of that.

But I didn’t really know how truly important it was until I won Gold.

It’s what’s prompted me to write this.

I don’t talk about my upbringing or my background much. I’ve never really thought that it mattered. I was recently sent a book called ‘Making it in the Creative Industry: A Practical Guide’ – from the Creative Mentor Network – and it reminded me that actually, I’ve been really effing lucky to get where I am.

I grew up in Essex. Single parent family. Mum worked two jobs. I didn’t go to private school (I got my GSCEs at Castle View School, Canvey Island). I had free school dinners (I remember having to queue up at reception every lunchtime and get the little bus ticket voucher). I didn’t go to university and I don’t have a degree.

No one paid for me to get anywhere. No one opened doors. And I didn’t get into the industry by knowing or by being related to someone on the c-suite. I get it, I’m a white cis-het male and so the system is easier for me to navigate – there’s privilege there. I acknowledge that.

For now though, I guess I’m acknowledging my background. Something I’ve always tried to get away from: my working class roots. I’ve always been afraid of it. I owe a gratitude of thanks and learning to my dear pal, Jed Hallam. His Common People movement has helped me understand who I am, where I am, where I’ve come from, and what that means.

And today I’ve got four Gold Lions.

You may not care about Cannes. And you know what, if you’d asked me before this week, I probably would’ve said I don’t care as well.

But then we won. And I sobbed. Sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Uncontrollably! Sobbed for the validation of my peers. Sobbed for achieving the heights on a campaign strategy and idea we believed in so much. Sobbed for all those bastards that never really knew what to do with me when they found me working in their team.

And yet here I am. With FOUR GOLD Lions.

Speechless. Utterly speechless.

Thanks to an amazing team (last round of thanks, promise):

At Saatch & Saatchi DE

Christian (creative leadership + vision), Miguel, Elvira (CS dream team), Stéphanie (air cover when we needed it), Ian, and Gabriel, (delivering the creative firepower)

At Digitas UK

James, Sarah (for picking up the strategic baton and running with it) and Matt (especially – for the freedom to work how I wanted to work, always providing the support when I needed it).

At Xbox (and Miai)

Gordon + Bolu (for being brilliant partners – up for everything and anything to help bring this to life).

And of course, at Mondelez:

Chiara, Jonathan, Guillaume, and Peter (for believing in the team and having the faith in us all to pull it off). You were ahead of the curve and it’s paid off in spades.

Finally, at home:

Annabelle – for always believing in me.

Congratulations one and all.

Can’t wait to celebrate in person.

James x


Those Lions in full:








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Author: James Whatley

Experienced advertising and communications strategist working in brand, games, and entertainment. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x