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Awards and Events

A Launch into the Future with VMLY&R’s Debbi Vandeven

Debbi Vandeven, Cannes Lions 2021 Social & Influencer jury president and global CCO of VMLY&R on what could be the start of a focus on creativity in the year ahead

A Launch into the Future with VMLY&R’s Debbi Vandeven

If you’re anything like us, you’ve spent a fair chunk of time on social media this past year or so. The allure of one more scroll on *insert your favourite social media network here* has proved all too tempting as we grappled with the extra time spent at home and a longing to stay in touch with friends and up-to-date on news. While things like live events and travel were off the cards, social offered brands a reliable, steady platform on which to speak to their consumers. 

Tasked with leading this year’s Social & Influencer jury at Cannes Lions is Debbi Vandeven, global CCO of VMLY&R. To find out how she’s gearing up for the challenge and the type of work her jury has seen during pre-judging so far, LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with her for a chat.


LBB> After a year-and-a-half of Covid-19, why does the business and creative world need award shows?



Debbi> Creativity deserves to be celebrated - now even more than ever. Award shows push our clients and the industry forward in amazing ways. Seeing the best-of-the-best work inspires us all to do more inventive work.



LBB> You’ll be awarding 2020 and 2021 Lions — I know the years are being judged separately, but it must be super illuminating to see the comparison between pre-Covid and Covid work. I know it’s still in the pre-judging phase, but have you noticed any trends, or has it given you any new perspective on how the industry has changed?



Debbi> The interesting thing I’ve found in the Social & Influencer category is that the work from the two years is really not dramatically different. The subject matter may have changed - social issues took centre stage in work that was done during 2020, for example - but this category’s work was not considerably different from 2020 to 2021. I can see that not being the case for some categories - like Brand Activation and Film - but not Social. Also, it’s worth noting that our jury is judging a body of work, and we weren’t making a division between the entries for the two years. 



LBB> This has been a year that has seen the industry chuck out all of the rule books, so in some ways, this year’s Cannes Lions is a launchpad for the future — how does that frame how you’ll be looking at the work? Does it give the juries an extra responsibility?



Debbi> In all honesty, I feel a tremendous responsibility every time I’m on a jury at Cannes. It’s our job to always be looking for the year’s most amazing work - work that drives the industry forward and launches us all into the future.



LBB> What advice will you be giving the jury?



Debbi> I ask that they look for work that has a true purpose for being on the social platform - not just something that’s put on social. It needs to have a reason for being. For example, making a decision to put a film online because strategically you need to drive real-time response - instead of putting it on broadcast where response will be delayed - could be a key to the work’s success. It’s all about using the platform in the very best way. Social needs to be integral to the idea. 

The other thing I always ask them to consider is that the work is true to the brand. That it’s something that only that brand could do. Honestly, I do believe it makes it easier to judge the work when you have these parameters.



LBB> Social campaigns can be hugely complex, planned-out things or an off-the-cuff bit of timely genius. Is this something you’ll consider when judging the work? What are your thoughts on that?



Debbi> I agree 100% - the work generally takes one of these two directions. They’re obviously very different from each other, but both can be extremely effective for the right brand.



LBB> Your category also incorporates influencer marketing, which is still somewhat of a modern phenomenon. What are your general thoughts on the use of influencers in advertising?



Debbi> I’ll go back to the advice to my jury - the influencer needs to be inherent to the idea and not just used because of the number of followers they have. Much weight is given to the idea during judging, and it’s vital that the influencer is actually a key part of it.

I do believe it’s interesting how influencers can run the gamut now and that brands are getting really creative with who an influencer can be. Animals - even insects - or brands themselves can all be influencers. It’s definitely a fun way to get creative and think about all the ways an influencer can impact the idea.



LBB> Cannes is also a time of celebration. What will you be celebrating this year?



Debbi> I’ll be celebrating the feeling of hope as the world starts to open back up. Here in the US, it certainly feels like we’re starting down a recovery path. Although, I know that in other areas of the world, they have a longer road ahead. 

Last year, everyone was so focused on keeping business running. It was a day-to-day challenge - and creativity took a hit as a result. But we do need to celebrate the fact that we did some amazing creative in spite of dealing with business uncertainty and not being together. Cannes 2021 feels like it could be the start of a focus on creativity in the year ahead.



LBB> What do you hope to see at Cannes 2022?  



Debbi> Number one on my list is seeing all of my industry friends and my global team. I miss the people more than anything. But I miss the inspiration as well. I’m looking so forward to next year - it will be huge. 


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