Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

They Made It To Cannes − and Won

Published in Jul-Aug 2023

Aurora sounds out the three creative winners who won it for Pakistan.

Pakistan shined – and shined brightly at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Ali Rez (Chief Creative Officer, Impact BBDO), was the first – in the 70 years of the Festival’s history – creative from Pakistan and the MENA region to have been selected as Jury President. BBDO Pakistan led by Atiya Zaidi, MD & ECD, BBDO Pakistan won the Glass: The Lion for Change Gold Award for their ‘Schoolgirls Newscasters for EBM’ campaign.

And then three Adcom Leo Burnett advertising professionals won their own accolades. They are Raaj Kheraj, Senior Manager, Digital & User Experience and Ezza Syed, Creative Manager; they won the Silver Medal at the Young Lions Competition, while Sameer Ali, Assistant Creative Director became the first Pakistani to graduate from the Young Lions Academy and was one of only 10 individuals to have been selected for a scholarship to the Creative Academy. Here is what they have to say about their experiences in Cannes; the hardest and easiest aspects of competing; the insights they took home, the personal traits that helped them achieve success and the advice they would offer to young Pakistani creatives ambitious to make their mark.

Sameer Ali: Associate Creative Director, Adcom Leo Burnett

“Cannes Lions was truly a life-changing experience. Connecting with creatives from around the world with different backgrounds but with a common passion for creativity through which we all could connect, was unbelievable. I was lucky to be a part of a cohort where we were able to form lifelong bonds in just eight days.

“The best part was to see the creativity of an industry celebrated. As advertisers and creatives, we get very few opportunities to be celebrated, and to have a platform that recognises and celebrates creativity is a huge motivation to keep going. What appealed to me the least was the visa process; it is jarring and a morale sapper that takes away from the initial excitement of the experience. Pakistanis are not lagging behind anyone when it comes to creativity and ideation. Getting to know the cultures of other countries; it was a real eye-opener to see how much we have in common. I think what helped most get this far in Cannes was my curiosity.

“My message to young creatives is: ‘Don’t undermine yourself. Take the necessary step forward. The world stage is waiting for you to conquer it.’”

Raaj Kheraj: Senior Manager, Digital & User Experience, Adcom Leo Burnett

“Oh boy, being 24 and in Cannes was like stepping into a marketing dreamland. It took a while for my brain to process the fact that I was sitting in the same room as industry legends. But once I did, the whole week was a rollercoaster of excitement where creativity was on steroids and the possibilities felt endless. Making friends was the easiest, especially with the Indian team. I gained more followers in a week than ever before. I loved the inclusivity; whether an industry giant or a newcomer, everyone was treated equally. The hardest part was time scheduling. So much was happening every day, with events overlapping. Keeping track and choosing what to attend was the most challenging aspect.

“What appealed to me the least were the exclusive parties I couldn’t enter, leading to some FOMO. However, every day felt like a party at Cannes, so I didn’t miss out on the fun.

“I learned so many things in Cannes, I could fill an entire issue of Aurora. But two insights stuck with me: ‘With a good insight, the ridiculous can quickly become revolutionary’ and ‘Infuse trauma-informed creativity, rather than infusing traumas into your creativity.’ These concepts challenged my perspective and showed the power of unconventional thinking and empathetic creativity.

“Keeping it simple was key to our success in both the national and international competitions. We focused on the simplest insight and paired it with a straightforward idea. We believed this approach could make or break our chances, and it ultimately led to our victory.

“My message to young Pakistani creatives is that you’ve got this! Believe in yourself like a superhero with an extra dose of swag. Trust in your talent, work hard and stay determined. Don’t let doubts or setbacks discourage you. Keep pushing forward, embrace challenges, and let your creativity shine. Your mark is waiting to be made, so go out there and make it happen!”

Ezza Syed: Creative Manager, Adcom Leo Burnett

“I am going to write something so cliché that I am going to cringe a little as I type this, but the Cannes Creativity Festival was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Everywhere I turned, there was something begging to become a muse for my next big idea (it may never see the light of day but I think it’s nice to mention that I was inspired by everything and everyone!)

“The pressure to deliver something extraordinary but yet simple and effective in the most competitive category of the Festival pushed me to explore my own creativity and give my best. The easiest part was reaching out for help. Cannes was a wellspring of collaboration and although we were supposed to be competing, people were ready to help. I loved the fact that diversity was celebrated, embraced and accepted. Amidst the sea of creatives from all over the world, we realised that there were only eight Pakistanis present, making us aware that we might still be years away from having dozens of us experiencing this incredible festival that celebrates creatives. Having said this, regardless of where you come from or the language you speak, there is an audience for your idea. No matter how unique or unconventional, there is a brand waiting to embrace and bring your idea to life.

“We see being competitive as an evil but embracing my competitive nature allowed me to channel my energy into delivering my best work, and ultimately played a significant role in my success there.

“Ambitious young Pakistani creatives please remember this: you are extraordinary and the advertising world needs your unique humour and spark. Always have a never-give-up attitude. Believe in yourself, never underestimate your capabilities, and let your creativity shine.”