How Attending Cannes Changed My Perspective on Brands: 6 Takeaways
A Young Lion shares lessons from attending Cannes, including how young talent can change marketing.
As I left New York City for Cannes, I was both nervous and excited, unsure of what to expect for the week ahead. I was proud to be selected as one of 30 global participants under 30 for the Cannes Lions Brand Marketers Academy– a weeklong program for rising stars in marketing to come together and learn from leading CMOs and CEOs. I was looking forward to meeting some amazing people from many different industries and brands. Nothing, though, prepared me for such a mind-blowing experience–personally, professionally and as a global citizen.
Of course, I have plenty to dish about. To name a few, I finagled my way into Spotify’s private Dua Lipa concert; I bumped smack-dab into Ryan Reynolds; I heard Paris Hilton speak articulately about Web3; and when human-rights activist Malala took the microphone, I admit, I cried.
As I sort through my notes and memories, still reminiscing about an incredible farm-to-table dinner from my stopover in Paris, I know at least seven Cannes-backed ideas are going to shape my career and fuel the work I do for brands.
1. Be a Climber, Not a Camper
Many speakers, including marketing execs from Procter & Gamble, GSK, Google, Meta, Mastercard and Activision Blizzard, talked about the importance of developing a growth mindset, embracing ambiguity and always looking to learn. In fact, the best advice that all these industry titans kept sharing was: The second you get bored in a role, you know it is time to switch and take on a new challenge to learn.
Climbers are always growing and must ensure their personal and professional brands are solid before reaching the top of the mountain. But these world-class marketers use that philosophy in a more generous way, helping others shine. While you will encounter campers throughout your career, and not all feedback is good feedback, it is clear that these leaders see building ladders and bridges for others as a critical part of the growth process – as demonstrated by the time they spent in our classroom during the week.
2. Creativity + Empathy = Business Impact
Marketing results run on great campaigns and solid brand building, and Cannes Lions exists to celebrate them. Yet these CMOs hammered home that true creativity cannot connect with people unless it is rooted in empathy – real “I see you” levels of compassion.
Empathy requires active listening to consumers and coworkers. Marketing is not a democracy, of course. But great leaders must provide safe spaces for diverse thoughts, disagreement and debate.
And I will never forget this advice as the most important way to evaluate new creatives: You only see work for the first time once. What do you see? Is it different? Is it expressing the brand in a new way? How does it make you feel?
3. When It Comes to DEI and ESG, Gen Z Has X-ray Vision
People get tired of members of Gen Z painting themselves as great truth-tellers. But in this area, we are already experts at spotting the malarkey. Much research confirms that Gen Z is more alert to all manners of green, pink and rainbow washing. And as I sat with the other global academy students, listening to frequent diversity, inclusion and sustainability pitches, I’m happy to report young marketers are even more attuned. I came home 300% convinced: If brands and companies cannot pursue these essential goals in transparent and authentic ways, they shouldn’t bother. Gen Z (and others) will see right through them.
4. The Marketing World Needs More Ikigai
For all the talk about brand purpose, I didn’t know of the centuries-old idea of “ikigai” until Jim Stengel, a consultant and former CMO of P&G, preached this. It means “reason for living”–the purpose we feel we are here to fulfill. It is easy to get sidetracked by what others want from us or expect us to be, personally and professionally. His challenge to all marketers is to discover what we are passionate about, what we love doing. What is your superpower? What are people giving you feedback on? Know your own brand and strengths. Whose life do you admire? Design your own ikigai to fit this purpose.
5. Push Deeper Into Authentic, Human-Centric Brand Insights to Unlock Value
Most of us believe we understand the brands we work on. But with no linear path to purchase or an expanding customer ecosystem, the definition of what is on or off for a brand is constantly being tested. The brand experience must be consistent and authentic – across real-life and metaverse touchpoints. When companies genuinely understand what a brand is good at, we can find new ways to add value to consumers. We can navigate between the virtual and real worlds with that human-centric truth.
6. Embrace the Next Big Thing
Every speaker stressed how important it is to give up the idea of being right or perfect. Throughout my time at Cannes, the importance and power of embracing mistakes were emphasized.
One thing that is not okay according to these presenters? Marketers not being at least a little curious about new trends and technology, even if it turns out to be an inconsequential fad. Curiosity and knowledge are essential tools. Lose it, and you become irrelevant–no matter how tenured you are in the business.
Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Chief Brand Officer, epitomizes that next, new thing with passion, essentially firing himself every 18 months from a category within the business. With each reinvention, he is looking to learn more about disruption– from gaming, tech titans and yes, the metaverse– and is committed to infusing sustainability and DEI standards across all touchpoints. I especially love his confession that he doubts himself daily. As a result, he says he never “wings” anything and always prepares, meticulously.
After several pandemic years of so few in-person professional conferences, a week at the Cannes Lions Brand Marketers Academy reminded me why I started in this industry. To keep growing–and to develop more effective growth strategies for clients–young female marketers like me need more exposure. Especially in these times of economic turbulence, new ideas, perspectives and approaches are key to maximum business impact.