Disrupt or be disrupted: My key Cannes takeaways

I challenge even a hard-hearted veteran of Cannes not to be inspired by the incredible work our industry produces. Seeing it always reminds me of how lucky I am to work in such a dynamic field.

One topic the Promenade de la Croisette was buzzing about this year was diversity and women’s empowerment. The new Glass Lion award spotlights some of the most inclusive and creative content tackling gender inequality – and the role that marketing can play in this. This is a big topic for Unilever, and it was inspiring to see the breadth of engagement at the UN Women panel on gender equality, which I spoke at.

Unilever chose Cannes as the launch pad for its new initiative with Vice, a platform for millennial women called Broadly. The focus for Broadly is authentic and relevant conversations with our female consumers, who are increasingly searching out content that matters most to them. It fits perfectly with the focus of empowerment and  a brighter, more equal future at Cannes.

Those who saw my keynote speech at Cannes know that over  the past few months I have spent time gaining the perspectives  of our industry leaders on what is working well, what’s not, and the future. They oversee $183bn in revenue, so offer a broad and representative perspective. An overriding takeaway from these conversations was the genuine belief that now is the most  dynamic and exciting time to be in marketing and advertising. Whether they were tech, data or creative focused, everyone sees the opportunities in front of us as the market evolves.

However, what came through loud and clear is that despite all the technology advances, the creative idea is still central to everything we do – and becoming even more important to break through the clutter and engage people.

This is particularly important when you consider how campaigns are evolving. It was telling that the largely consumer generated ALS ice bucket challenge won a Gold Lion. The campaign brings together many of the core themes of the festival this year – content, video, data, social, purpose-driven and consumer-led.  For me, this campaign highlights the need for our industry to  keep evolving quickly, to stay on the front foot, and to push the boundaries of what it means to stand out. Otherwise our ideas will simply drown. (in a bucket of ice cold water)

Not for the first time brand purpose was a major theme –  something that is core to Unilever’s vision and direction. Nine years after Dove won the first ever Grand Prix for a piece of digital communications with Evolution, an early piece of work from its Real Beauty campaign, it is great to find this becoming part of the wider conversation.

Cross-industry collaboration is key to success here, and Cannes is an important moment of the year to enable this. Whether that is speaking alongside Richard Curtis at the Project Everyone lunch, which aims to communicate several sustainable development goals with 7 billion people in seven days, or through digital platform Collectively.org, which we support (along with more than 30 other partners) to make sustainable living the new normal.

However, one of the key topics for me was measurement and the need to address the three ‘Vs’ in digital advertising – viewability, verification and value. Accurate measurement of our ads and the effectiveness of reaching people in the right way is essential. By working together we can create a more realistic and fair solution to measure our creative content and its effectiveness. We must move the standards of the industry in the right direction.

The final thought that will stay with me is the need to disrupt, or be disrupted. That may sound strange coming from a global company operating across 190 markets. But embracing disruption is critical to creating change. Startups are pioneering the future and we have to connect our global brands to these pioneers if we are to adapt, evolve and stay relevant to people.

Through the Unilever Foundry, we took 50 startups out to Cannes. Our vision is that through this work we can look to innovate and make sustainability commonplace through our brands, supply chain and innovation. As marketers, we need to become better at experimenting, taking risks, accepting the occasional failure and learning quickly along the way. These behaviours come naturally  to startups and I look forward to seeing what the next five years at Cannes hold following the influence of the creative, entrepreneurial spirit I saw this summer.

Vision 100 breaker

Keith Weed is chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever. He is one Marketing Week’s Vision 100 in association with Adobe, an exclusive club of the most visionary executives working in marketing.

Find out more at vision100.marketingweek.com

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