The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity brings together professionals working in the creative space. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/FRANCOIS G DURAND
The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity brings together professionals working in the creative space. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/FRANCOIS G DURAND

Consumers have fallen out of love with brands. This sobering fact was shared at Cannes Lions 2019 in the form of a statistic from the 2019 Meaningful Brands Survey Powered by Havas Worldwide, which shows that consumers wouldn’t care if 77% of brands simply didn’t exist. This same survey also claims that 58% of brand content published lacks any meaning. Thus, over half of the content that’s produced is already dead in the water, falling by the wayside only to be lapped up by waste statistics.

It was a stark wake-up call for brand owners, marketers and agencies alike; a worrying reality check that pushed everyone to the edge of their seats and created space for an authentic response. And the response that echoed during the course of the festival was a resounding imperative to create impact and meaning through a purpose and, in doing so, enable a more emotive connection with people on issues that really matter.

This call to arms, as it were, formed an integral part of the festival’s narrative, underpinned by one of the prevailing strategic themes of future-proofing brands to withstand the tsunami of challenges faced in this modern, transparent and technologically charged world. Cannes participants were also treated to in-depth explorations of several additional themes, with key speakers unpacking the ways that brands and agencies can and are rising to the challenge of facing the future and achieving sustainable relevance.

Brand impact on culture

Whether they’re fighting taboos, saving the environment, or serving customers from a competitive burger joint, brands are employing creative magic to change the momentum of cultural conversation.

One of the most notable campaigns in this space is #bloodnormal, a campaign curated and produced by feminine-care group, Essity. Their intention is to subvert the ingrained cultural taboos around a natural bodily process – women’s periods – most noticeably by changing the way in which menstrual blood is portrayed. This Essity and Impact BBDO achieved by turning their pad brand, Libresse, red and doing away with the sanitised blue liquid we’ve become accustomed to in feminine-care commercials.

Their hope is to normalise menstruation with images of embroidered bloody underwear, blood in the shower and, yes, blood on a pad. In doing so, they also hope to destigmatise the idea that periods cause women to be smelly and dirty.

The value of brand listening

In a world of AI, machine learning and automated listening, it might be surprising to learn that human community managers and consumer researchers are still our best way to understand audiences. You see, while machines are becoming more powerful, there are qualities that are uniquely human, such as displays of empathy, a creative mindset, and intuition.

These qualities are crucial to curating the right customer experience and knowing the best time to act, and one of the key things pointed out was the importance of listening to diverse consumers – not just a single homogenous set. Only by doing this will brands be able to shape culture and be a part of the communities they serve.

Andrew Barraclough, vice-president of Global Design & Innovation at GlaxoSmithKline said: “Design thinking [is] all about building empathy with consumers, about listening with your eyes, and about taking that empathy and linking it to brands and corporate strategy to solve tricky problems.”

Brands driven towards purpose

There is no doubt that purpose-led brands continue to receive greater return on investment than brands that are beloved. However, the key question is whether the business of business is to create value for shareholders, value for the world … or both.

Now that we fully understand the need to use purpose as a vehicle to drive brand connections, creative leaders will be more fully empowered to stand up to shareholders – pushing both what is right for the brand and what is right for the business. What we are yet to comprehend – amid calls for social change, ethical principles, diverse voices, and world health – is how brands can give back as much equity as they are borrowing to achieve relevance and market share.

The big take-out

Consumers expect brands to contribute to their well-being and quality of life.  

This has sparked an entirely new debate, where one of the solutions put forward has been for brands to create content that implants itself in people’s memories and drives them towards impact. Importantly, brands must seek out a common sense of activism and focus on the cause in order to generate willing participation among consumers and avoid being seen as opportunistic and inauthentic. More often than not, this involves the right partnership between a brand and an activist, an organisation, or a great storyteller who can connect with consumers.

Whichever way we choose to create impact, connect with our customers, and make consumers fall in love with us all over again, one thing is clear: people expect brands to contribute to their well-being and quality of life over and above selling products. To answer this call and meet this need in a way that elevates relevance and increases profits depends on our ability to listen to these people.

Where we fail to cement this into our strategy, we will certainly face hard times and we will lose the love.

Leigh-Anne Acquisto is CEO & founder of Liquorish Ink Communications