Finding Humanity In An Era Of Change

A perspective from Cannes 2018

By Sharon Love – CEO, TPN

 

Awards for Creativity. Big data. Provocative speakers. Branded beaches. Yachts, parties, concerts, and rose… Some aspects have remained the same over time but the annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity has definitely undergone some change—even in the four short years I’ve attended. Beyond the greater presence of big media platforms and the continuing corporate dynamic, there felt to me, this year, a shift in the posture of our industry. A humbling pivot that’s put many marketers in a defensive position. And for good reason. In a moment of transparency concerns, a tech explosion, and the fight for equality and inclusion, how does an agency or brand survive and thrive? The answer may be to rediscover our humanity.

 

Embracing the human spirit in creativity

The list of jobs gobbled up by robots grows each year. And today it seems feasible that new technology, big data, and in-house creative shops may replace the “agency” as we’ve known it to date. Angela Ahrendts—formerly CEO of Burberry, currently SVP, Retail, Apple— went on the offensive at Cannes during her panel “Reimagining the Retail Experience” championing the value of “the human business” with regards to technology, the digital boom, and the future of retail. She acknowledged the importance of technology (she works for Apple, after all!) but was purposely focused on the need for the human touch. At TPN, we share her opinion that retail isn’t dying, it’s merely changing. That truth was complemented in another great panel, “The Not So Secret Life of Creatives”, where they discussed how Pinterest lets you play in a virtual world to generate ideas that you later cultivate in the offline world. My takeaway? Those of us that adapt the most efficiently and find that right balance of man-and-machine will win moving forward.

 

Seeing each other human-to-human

As marketers, an important part of what we owe our clients is a clear delineation of who their target audience is. No one today should be wasting time or money marketing to the wrong person, even slightly. Data has made us more accurate, in a lot of ways. But as I listened to Faith Popcorn’s session, “The Death of Masculinity and its Impact on Creativity”, I was reminded of the limitations of big data. Her take on the constant blurring definitions of masculinity and femininity, and beyond, cannot be captured in data. It’s too nuanced and shifting. Perhaps one way to ensure we’re connecting with our audience in the right ways is to view them as people as opposed to males, females or other gender labels. That would allow us to avoid offensive or alienating stereotypes. Wherever we can, we should ask ourselves how we’d like to be approached by a brand—as a woman? As a man? Or perhaps just as a person of certain interests. That theme seemed to align well with the message Seth Farbman (CMO, Spotify) sent at his panel “Creativity in the Age of Resistance”. He highlighted the voice they give to artists to make positive change—with themes of inclusivity and acceptance of all rising to the top. Seth stressed that using Spotify’s platform for positive change has become “an obligation”. The nature of your brand or platform, of course, figures largely into your ability to deliver this promise. But overall, the thought of steering clear of any level of stereotype and bias is a smart one for the times.

 

Fulfilling the equality promise

Many sessions focused on eliminating bias from our business—both in our internal company structures and in our work. The argument for gender and racial equality as a business imperative has been talked about for a long time and now there is conclusive evidence that companies who have a diverse workforce and leadership team deliver better results than those who do not. Early in the discussions about the importance of diversity, the moral imperative for equality had to take a back seat to business to get all the people who needed to hear it onboard. So why are some brands so slow to act on this and clean up their act? I just saw on Facebook this morning an old friend bemoaning the back of her (unnamed here) breakfast cereal box. It was a heartland story of where the grains had been raised for the cereal and featured the family of farmers who had grown it—there was not ONE female in the picture! It was kind of shocking. But there is reason for hope that the cereal box debacle will be a thing of the past. At one of my favorite panels, “Agents of Change”, featuring Katie Couric, Queen Latifah, Madonna Badger, and Mark Pritchard—they shared that though 29% of ads still portray women negatively or inappropriately, that number is down from 51% just two years ago. It seems like the hard work is beginning to pay off. As Omnicom’s Chief Diversity Officer, Tiffany R. Warren stated in her panel “Diversity—a Values Issue and Business Imperative”: “Diverse teams mean diverse thinking. We need representation in front of and behind the camera at every level, so we can normalize what used to be marginalized.”

 

Applying the good in tech

The power to ‘do good’ using data & technology is very exciting—both as a human being and as a marketer. One compelling session I attended, entitled “Androids, AI and the Future of Creativity” touted a function of new technology as a way for humans to understand what it really means to be human—when you interact with a robot, you begin to appreciate the things it can’t do that a human can. But the flip side (the dark side, if you will) of what data & technology have already wrought is concerning. We need good and responsible data and tech to win the day. Simply vilifying data/tech as bad (taking our jobs way!) or dangerous (destroying our privacy, rigging our elections) is to ignore all of the good it can do, and has done. The opportunity to connect our audiences with relevant, uplifting, and helpful content has never been greater. Our customers look to us to provide helpful information. It’s a great responsibility. But as we work to utilize the ever-expanding network of data, and the power of platforms like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Instagram plus technology like AI, machine learning, and Voice, we need to (somehow) avoid fueling the increasing dependence our audiences have on mobile and social media as personal validation. As Scott Hagedorn, Chief Executive of Hearts & Science pointed out, it’s led to a rise in depression and anxiety (not to mention a polarizing political divide unlike anything we’ve ever seen). It will take human understanding and intervention to help brands utilize the power of data and technology in a transparent, positive, and ethical manner. And the ones who do so will win the ongoing trust of consumers.

 

For an industry a bit on its heels, the unity, positivity, and human spirit in the air at Cannes was palpable. Hopefully, as marketers, creators, thinkers, and—most importantly—humans, we continue to respect the huge responsibility we have to the brands and consumers we serve and harness our platforms and power to make real change, for good.

P&G Shifting to a Less is More Strategy

Earlier this month Proctor & Gamble (P&G) announced that it would be cutting more than half its brands, a drastic shift  in strategy for the world’s largest consumer-products company. In the past, the company obtained brand after brand, even within the same category to ensure a hefty percentage of shelf space and leverage for consumers’ dollars. But as the retail landscape is shifting, P&G, along with other CPG companies, are having to adjust their paradigms and their portfolios.

From the Wall Street Journal:

P&G didn’t say which brands it will sell or shut down, but it will be a sizable culling of products that bring in around $8 billion a year in revenue. The company owns scores of lesser-known brands including Era and Cheer laundry detergent, Clearblue pregnancy tests and Metamucil laxatives. Dozens could prove attractive to private-equity firms that specialize in orphaned brands or companies in countries like China or Brazil looking for a more global presence.

“I’m not interested in size at all,” Mr. Lafley said in an interview Friday. “I’m interested in whether we are the preferred choice of shoppers.” He said some larger brands may be culled if P&G decides it cannot do well in those segments, and pointed to the company’s recent sale of its pet-food brands, including Iams which had over $1 billion in sales.

So it’s no longer about amassing a chunk of brands, but about keeping and focusing on those brands that are the best fit for the company. Though P&G has not declared which brands it plans to sell, likely some of its smaller, less productive brands will be let go. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean smaller, niche brands are going to be out completely, as long as they are niche market leaders, like Dreft baby clothes detergent or Fixadent denture adhesive.

In looking at this shift in strategy by P&G, it’s crucial to keep consumers in mind at the core of this shift. These days companies must wage battle for consumers’ attention through what seems like a ever-evolving number of channels. There are thousands of TV channels now, satellite radio, social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, with new ones popping up everyday, along with display and search advertising in addition to more traditional advertising, and that’s just a brief summation. While it’s ripe with opportunity to be able to reach consumers on so many levels, the only way to reap the rewards is if brands can break through to be seen and remembered. And when you have too many dogs in the fight for consumers’ attention, you don’t do any of your brands any favors by creating more competing “clutter.”

Additionally, think of the impact of technology has had on the state of retail given the physical store shelves are competing with virtual store shelves. On his blog Stratechery, technology strategist Ben Thompson addresses the P&G announcement within this context:

…Remember, dominating shelf space was a core part of their strategy, and while I’m no mathematician, I’m pretty sure dominating an infinite resource is a losing proposition. What matters now is dominating search… There are two big challenges when it comes to winning search:

  • Because search is initiated by the customer, you want that customer to not just recognize your brand (which is all that is necessary in a physical store), but to recall your brand (and enter it in the search box). This is a much stiffer challenge and makes the amount of time and money you need to spend on a brand that much greater
  • If prospective customers do not search for your brand name but instead search for a generic term like “laundry detergent” then you need to be at the top of the search results. And, the best way to be at the top is to be the best-seller. In other words, having lots of products in the same space can work against you because you are diluting your own sales and thus hurting your search results

The way to deal with both challenges is the same way you break through the noise: you put more focus on fewer brands.

I think Thompson hits the nail on the head, especially for such a large player like P&G in the CPG game. Time will tell if this move helps P&G’s bottom line and if the private equity firms expected to purchase the former P&G brands wind up with deals.

Photo credit: Getty

PSA for Life Jackets Feels Hauntingly Real

With the coming of Spring and Summer, the weather warms up and folks will be looking to cool off with trips to the beach or to the lake. The teaser above for CLM BBDO’s A Trip out to Sea PSA for Guy Cotten, a French marine equipment and clothing brand, will make you think twice about turning down a life jacket for the sake of showing off your cute bikini on your first boat outing of the season. The interactive site will ensure your life jacket is snug and secured before you ever step foot off land. The Guy Cotten connection is minimally-done, which is nice and feels appropriate given the levity of the subject matter, but the connection is evident none-the-less.

Through the compelling video and interactive site, you, the viewer, will see from a first-person simulation what it is like to drown and it gets real, real fast. On the interactive site, users must constantly scroll their mouse in order to keep above water to reinforce the repetitive nature of treading water. There’s only one way this exercise ends and it’s not being swooped up to safety by a luck dragon. It’s a hauntingly vivid portrayal of one’s last thoughts before succumbing to the deep.

Now, I think it would be interesting to take this already emotional PSA to another level and it could be done through a number of methods. One way I think its impact could be even more immediate would be to display it at retailers selling boats and outdoor equipment. If this site was connected with a brand sold commercially in the U.S., I could imagine a large, interactive display at a place like Cabela’s or REI that would enable shoppers to experience this right next to the life jackets in the store. The point would be made immediately and hopefully, trigger sales and usage of these life saving devices. Another way would be to have lake patrollers who check boats for life jackets cue this up on waterproof tablets during their stops, so instead of just feeling like a fun-day-at-the-lake downer, they could educate people about the realities of drowning to further reinforce the need.

Credits: Guy Cotten and CLM BBDO

2013: The Year of Deal-Seeking

Google released its top-searched items of 2013, and Kohl’s, JCPenny and Nordstrom graced the top spots on the apparel brands and retailers list.  Following the top three included Forever 21, Old Navy and Macy’s.

What do these retailers have in common?  All were searched along with terms that indicated shoppers were looking for a deal or price reduction.  For example, Nordstrom shoppers were most likely looking for Nordstrom Rack in their searches.

But this trend of looking for good deals is not exclusive to online retailers.  Shoppers are also more likely to negotiate prices in-store, thanks to multiple resources.

Brick and mortar shoppers now have an arsenal of never-ending resources in the form of smartphones.  Price-checking in-store, or showrooming, has quickly become the norm, and retailers have had no choice but to find creative ways to fight back and ensure in-store sales remain strong.

Best Buy is one of those retailers and is offering a price-match guarantee this year.  What does this mean?  Customers can bargain.  Prices are no longer set in stone.  If a shopper finds a cheaper price online, Best Buy will work with them to keep that sale in-store.

The future of retail is changing rapidly and with each new technological advancement, shoppers get smarter about what they are willing to pay for products and services.  Brands and retailers will also have to continue to get smarter, adopting new technologies and policies that will ensure both in-store and online channels thrive.

Macy’s Gets Active to Draw Millennials to Stores

In an effort to attract a younger audience, Macy’s will introduce a wider array of athletic apparel to its stores this month.  Brands will include Nike, Under Armour and the North Face, among others.

“We are working with the best brands in the category to bring our customers exciting merchandise that will serve their athletic interests in all endeavors — from the yoga studio to the weight room, to hiking and rock climbing,” said Jeff Gennette, Macy’s chief merchandising officer.

It’s no surprise that the department store saw an opportunity for growth in the category, as athletic apparel is key among Millennials, who are already purchasing two to three times more clothing than previous generations.

Further, athletic apparel is no longer just for working out.  These days, Millennials want to look good in their athletic gear while at the gym or running errands, making it “lifestyle” apparel, more than anything else.  This category shift has been also a driving force behind the success of Lululemon Athletica, the third most successful U.S. retail store in 2012.

Macy’s introduction of additional athletic brands will also include kiosk technology to further create a bridge between in-store and online shopping, allowing shoppers to find any brand in any store.

Feature Photo Credit: spafinder.com

Pew Research Center: 72% of Online Adults Use Social Networks

A new study by the Pew Research Center found that 72% of online adults use social networking sites.  For users 65 or older, there has been a 30% increase in social media use from four years ago.  And while younger online adults ages 18-29 still lead the way for social networking use, older users are continuously and rapidly increasing their presence.

What does this mean for brands?  Digital mediums are becoming omnipresent in the lives of all consumers.  Millennials and moms are no longer the only consumers to consider targeting through digital and social mediums.

Feature photo credit: www.arikhanson.con

APPtitude: Candy Crush Saga

Background

Candy Crush Saga is an addictively simple game that challenges players to match three or more pieces of candy in a row.  That’s it…well except for the seemingly never-ending number of levels (as of now, there are 385).  Further, the game has integrated pay-to-play technology that allows users to make in-app purchases to continue playing or buy booster candies.

Candy Crush by the Numbers

  • It is the number one app on Facebook with 45.2 million active players
  • On mobile phones (iOS and Android), Candy Crush is the number three most downloaded app
  • The game is played more than 600 million times on mobile devices each day

Why does this matter?

Many mobile apps hit a popularity peak, and struggle to sustain that popularity.  Candy Crush, on the other hand, has steadily been increasing in popularity since it’s launch in April 2012, and shows no sign of slowing down.

What does this mean for brands?

Candy Crush’s simplicity, pay-to-play features and expansive number of levels, means players can’t – and won’t – stop crushing candy.  The game’s mix of digital ingredients and subsequent popularity demonstrate the impact of keeping consumers engaged in an ever-changing digital world.

 

Feature photo credit: itunes.apple.com

Introducing “APPtitude”

As of June 2013, there were 900,000 apps available in the iTunes app store. So how is it possible to know which apps can help drive marketing efforts and which are a waste of time?

The answer: “APPtitude” — a new feature by TPN’s Millennial Minute that will highlight the latest and greatest apps, app news and how each can tie into retail marketing efforts.

This week’s featured (and inaugural) app: Instagram.

Background

Instagram launched in 2011 as the iPhone version of a classic Polaroid camera. Most of you probably downloaded it. Or, your kids did. Facebook recently bought the app and last week it launched a new feature that allows users to take short, 15-second videos, in addition to photos.

Why does this matter?

Earlier this year, Twitter launched Vine, the first app of its kind that allowed users to upload six-second videos. As a user of Vine, I’m not overly impressed. It lacks features to create videos truly worth sharing.

Instagram’s new video feature is essentially the same concept, but has quickly blown Vine out of the water. Here’s why:

  1. Instagram already has an established user base — people understand the app, how to use it and what kind of content works best. The video feature falls quite naturally into the structure of the originally photo-only app, making the video easy to use.
  2. Vine users weren’t quite sure what to do when the app first launched. Stop-motion movies are a lot of work, and for only a six-second video … worth the time investment? I’m still on the fence… On the other hand, the quality and beauty of seasoned Instagram users’ photos translates into their Instagram videos. This gives direction to all users and remains within the user-established Instagram style standards.
  3. Instagram includes features that Vine users have been asking for since its launch.  The most notable: the ability to take front-facing video for — of course — video selfies.

What does this mean for brands?

Brands have just started to discover ways to connect with their audiences through Vine, but Instagram provides an already-established user base, cutting out a huge portion of the work required when connecting to audiences through social media.

Further, Instagram already established itself as a lifestyle-focused app, giving brands the ability to connect with audiences on a very unique level. The addition of video will simply extend the ways in which brands build meaningful social relationships.

 

Feature photo credit: www.digitaltrends.com

Social Media’s March Madness

The Superbowl may have commercials, but March Madness is nipping at its heels with social media, thanks the medium’s ability to attract and interact with a broad range of consumers – and a lot of them.

Nielsen’s 2012 Year in Sports revealed that among 18-49 year olds, 99 percent of sports events were viewed on various devices the same day as airing. This means brands that ran campaigns during the 2012 NCAA championship game were guaranteed a timely interaction with a portion of the 20.8 million viewers who tuned in for the Big Dance.

To take advantage of 2013’s potential reach, Coca-Cola is spending 10 times what it did on social media in 2012 with a campaign that takes a look into the loss of productivity during NCAA March Madness.

The campaign pairs Coke Zero with Bleacher Report, one of the leading sports brands during March, to provide various insights via multiple channels as to why “it’s not your fault you’ve been slacking off” during tournament time.

Other brands have also embraced social media to connect with the NCAA March Madness consumer.

ESPN took a somewhat political approach by having President Obama fill out his bracket on SportsCenter, followed by YouTube star Robbie Novak, also known as “Kid President,” making his predictions. While the President’s video has only 3,000 views thus far, Kid President has racked up more than one million views, demonstrating the power of a strong social media presence.

NCAA sponsors AT&T and Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have both created campaigns that promise a chance at attending next year’s tournament, all the while ramping up brand page views and Facebook likes. Even more, AT&T and the NCAA teamed up on Twitter to provide “real-time highlights” of games under the NCAA’s @marchmadness handle.

And although the final numbers for 2013 are not yet in, brands that implemented social media campaigns during the past month are sure to see positive results — results that will likely spark an influx of social media campaigns in 2014 and years to come.