Glass: The Lion for Change Grand Prix Case Study: The Last Ever Issue

In 2019, VMLY&R Poland made history when their bold idea to buy and transform an adult magazine in an effort to promote gender equality earned them the country's first Cannes Lions Grand Prix. In this new case study, we dive into the ideas behind the award-winning piece of work and explore the impact the success had for the agency. 
The team from VMLY&R on stage collecting Poland's first Grand Prix

Glass: The Lion for Change launched in 2015 with the specific goal of recognising work that challenged gender bias and shattered the stereotypical images which remain rooted in marketing messages.

At the time, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg explained that “you can’t be what you can’t see – and how we market to women is critically important".  She added: “If our messages to women – and men – portray equality, we will help create a more equal world”.

Five years later and Glass: The Lion for Change Grand Prix had been awarded to two Indian ideas and work from the UK and USA. Looking deeper at the winning work, it's clear that these three countries have dominated the production of the kind of work the Glass Lion was designed to promote. Aside from a handful of pieces from Mexico, The Middle East and South America, all the Golds had come from these nations.

Marriage Market Take Over by Forsman & Bodenfors is one of the few Gold Glass Lion winners not from the US, UK or India,

But this changed in June 2019, when the team from VMLY&R in Poland were announced as the winners of the year’s Glass: The Lion for Change Grand Prix for their work titled ‘The Last Ever Issue’. In collecting the prize from Jury President Jaime Robinson, Chief Creative Officer at Joan Creative, they became Poland’s first ever Cannes Lions Grand Prix winner.

As she introduced her Lion at the Awards Show, Robinson acknowledged its critical importance as a reflection of changing attitudes towards gender issues in countries such as Poland. She told the audience that the “conversation is shifting in the world” and that this is only right because “the beliefs we’re fighting against are not right”.

“The beliefs we’re fighting against are not right. They are systemic. And they are based in really ugly things like anger and ignorance. So let’s be smarter than them. Let’s be brilliantly transgressive and joyfully rebellious.”
Jaime Robinson, Chief Creative Officer, Joan Creative
The Print & Publishing Jury discussed the creative industry's responsibility to address negative gender portrayals on stage

Print & Publishing Lions jury member Hernan Kritzer, CCO of Grey Argentina, went further during an Inside the Jury Room session at the Festival. He pointed out that work that wins awards such as Glass: The Lion for Change Grand Prix are critical for the perception of the industry in general. There’s There’s a view among consumers that adverting itself in the past has been instrumental in creating and reinforcing many of the stereotypes that work like ‘The Last Ever Issue’ is now trying to combat.

“Advertising can create stereotypes, but it can also do just the opposite.”
Hernan Kritzer, CCO of Grey Argentina

The work that earned Poland its first Grand Prix was brilliantly simple in conception. For 27 years, ‘Your Weekend’ had been one of the nation’s most read adult magazines - reducing women to sex objects in a way that had become the norm in Poland. So in December 2018, when the publication came up for sale, VMLY&R convinced leading Polish news portal to team up with Mastercard and BNP Paribas - two brands with a long-term commitment to empowering women -  to buy the magazine and produce a final issue. This edition, released on International Women’s Day, challenged the culture of sexism and gender inequality by including diverse and progressive narratives of femininity instead of pornography.

This was exactly the sort of creative solution that Jaime Robinson said the Glass: The Lion for Change Jury were looking for. On stage, she said they had experienced “a giddy sensation that comes when you see creative genius used to undermine stupidity” when looking at this idea and the others entered into the category.

The case film for 'The Last Ever Issue' highlights just how powerful and successful the idea was
“You can’t change the world without getting a little creative…I love the idea of throwing grenades of love at the dissenters. And I think we can grow this rainbow hued army of ours that’s fighting for equality.”
Jaime Robinson, Chief Creative Officer, Joan Creative, Global

For the team at VMLY&R in Poland, the work was a response to real social issues they observed within their country. The agency’s ECD, Dawid Szczepaniak, explained in the Cannes Lions Global Creativity Report that there was “an atmosphere of disrespect towards women” that was pervasive throughout Poland. He noted that this was visible not just in the streets of Poland but at the highest levels of society.

“There is an atmosphere of disrespect towards women. This manifests in many different ways, but perhaps the best illustration of the issue is the way politicians and celebrities patronise and marginalise women.”
Dawid Szczepaniak, ECD, VMLY&R Poland

So for the agency, the project became critically important and there were several pitfalls they had to negotiate in order to craft a Grand Prix worthy idea. Maciek Kozina, Associate Creative Director at VMLY&R Poland, noted that the most significant of these was getting the tone of the new publication right. He told us that the team wanted to “make sure it didn’t feel preachy or radical and that the educational message was disguised within inclusive and approachable content”. Art Director Ewelina Wojtyczka added that this approach extended even to how the publication was put together:

“We wanted people to remember the old magazine, so we kept the structure the same, but we turned the content upside down, giving the old sections a new narrative.”
Ewelina Wojtyczka, Art Director, VMLY&R Poland
The team were careful to echo the style of the original magazine in putting together 'The Last Ever Issue'

Dawid Szczepaniak added that this dedication to getting ever aspect of the execution right extended to the targeting of the work. The team worked hard to target “wealthy men in big cities who had grown up reading magazines like 'Your Weekend' but don’t think there is anything wrong with their attitudes towards women”. They hoped that the work would help this demographic realise “they have subconsciously been raised with sexist values and that they need to watch their language and behaviour”.

The results clearly showed that the team’s care and attention paid off. The online edition of the magazine was the best-selling e-magazine in Poland in March 2019, and projected sales of the physical edition made it the best-selling issue of ‘Your Weekend’ in a decade. As a result, the work organically reached 4.5 million people and generated 25 million media impressions. It was also successful for the client, as the work generated 500,000 visits to - a 50% increase in their daily traffic. But the most impressive result was a big fat zero: the exact amount of impressions of 'Your Weekend’s' objectifying content since March 2019.

For VMLY&R Poland the work represented the culmination of efforts to unlock a Lion-winning formula in their work. Dawid Szczepaniak explained that the agency had been working for some years “convicting clients into bolder decisions”. They’d also been refining exactly how they put together submissions for the awards they entered.

In 2015, VML Warsaw entered a road safety idea into Cannes Lions. It was the agency's first entry and it failed to win a prize.
“We had a few great campaigns entered into Cannes Lions on the way. None of them got even shortlisted. But we never gave up.”
Dawid Szczepaniak, ECD, VMLY&R Poland

But after they finally cracked the formula, success came quickly – with ‘The Last Ever Issue' also picking up three Bronze Lions and a Titanium award. This recognition on the global stage has already had a profound impact on the agency and the way they work with clients.

On a personal level, Maciek, the person who first came up with this idea, was offered a job in the New York office of VMLY&R. As Szczepaniak put it, the win “definitely opened doors” for the team. Happily, Szczepaniak added that one of the other effects of the win is that he’s found it easier to attract new talent to work at the agency when people like Maciek move on.

“As ECD and partner, once you prove that your agency is capable of supporting and producing such bold projects, it’s so much easier to attract the best talent in the market.”
Dawid Szczepaniak, ECD, VMLY&R Poland

He went on to explain that the impact of the Grand Prix success has extended to the way the agency can now work with their clients. Szczepaniak noted that he’d heard from others that Cannes Lions success opened doors but didn’t truly understand the value of the Lion until he had some in his possession. Now he’s excited that the success means there’s an opportunity to continue the empowering work that ‘The Last Ever Issue’ started:

“Once the clients taste what it means to win at Cannes Lions, they want more. [The win] opened doors for discussions about even bolder moves in the future. A few years ago, it would be unthinkable to run LGBT campaigns in Poland and now more and more clients are open to discuss it.”
Dawid Szczepaniak, ECD, VMLY&R Poland