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.

Highlights from Cannes 2017: The Influence of Great Storytelling

Storytelling is a popular word in the current marketing lexicon. Its one of the most authentic ways to ignite a bond between brands and consumers and was the theme of many talks and sessions at Cannes 2017, including one with Ira Glass (Producer, host, creator of This American Life, among others). Glass spoke about how to tell a good story and why it matters.

Glass’ 6 keys to telling a story:

  1. Story is a plot with forward momentum—it should drive to an interesting idea with meaning and involve interesting characters.
  2. Kids make great content—Kids really do say the most amazing things if you have the patience and respect to hear them. Interviewing kids can seem difficult, but it’s actually quite simple if you just listen.
  3. Great stories happen to those who can tell them—not everything has to be perfect. In fact, failure can make for a very interesting story if told correctly.
  4. Amuse yourself—to tell a moving story, you have to put your humanity into it. Laughing or showing curiosity in subjects or events that (in real life) aren’t funny is actually human. It’s ok to seek fun and to share your enthusiasm for the story as you’re creating it. Humor keeps people listening.
  5. Talk normal—Conversational tone is human and relatable. It creates a chatty intimacy between the teller and reader. True 1:1 conversation, with real vernacular, intonation and emphasis is the tone of the Internet.
  6. The power of not seeing—when you can only listen, there’s nothing to distract you from the narrative and characters of the story. You become reliant on your imagination to match the characters and narrative to image. The sound of a human voice immediately connects you to them and their story. As a radio icon, Glass is well aware of this.

Success of a Podcast is rooted in great storytelling.

The results have literally spoken for themselves: This American Life took 4 years to reach 1 million listeners per episode, while Serial took 4 weeks and S-Town took only 3 days. And when you compare the reach of the podcast, consider the data around other mediums as well: Wonder Woman’s opening weekend US audience was 11.4 million. Breaking Bad’s series finale was 10.3 million. While Serial’s S1 average downloads PER EPISODE was 14.2 million.

So how can we tell better brand stories?

As marketers, our messages should mean something—and lead to real connections with our audience. We should speak in a voice and tone that’s human and natural because it generates trust and loyalty. The success of some of the greatest podcasts was truly organic—no social media or promotion outside word-of-mouth. If we create stories that people want to share, we’ll bring the same level of success to our brands.

Highlights from Cannes 2017: Consuming vs. Doing

There’s no question that technology has fundamentally changed our lives—constant connectivity is a reality. But what level of connectivity is the healthiest? And how do we actually make consumers lives better verses creating addictive behaviors? This question entered my mind several times over the past few days at Cannes and particularly in listening to talks by Pinterest President, Tim Kendall and Senior Global Brand Director of Social Mecca and Video at Lego, Lars Silberbauer. Here are a few highlights below:

Are you living your life—or your selfie’s?
Tim Kendall (President, Pinterest) stressed that current technology trends are driving consumers to spend time behind smart screens verses beyond them. The average person spends 3 hours a day on their smart phone and the numbers are scarily rising. The Internet promise of connectivity is actually creating a world of isolation. And, current social platform KPIs focus on impressions and time spent on-screen verses igniting real life experiences.

As marketers, how can we create content that inspires consumers to stop tapping and start doing? Or, maybe not stop tapping…. just lessen it a bit to make sure consumers connect offline as well.

Using social media to ignite real play
Lars Silberbauer (Senior Global Brand Director of Social Mecca and Video, Lego) explained how he brought this iconic 85-year-old brand into the world of social media. Lego’s vision was to bring creativity and building together.

Using a delicate mix of digital tactics to inspire kids to play in the offline world, Lego gained a social following of over 1 million in just 3 weeks. The company focused positioning Lego as a play-starter with the hope of capturing new authentic Lego creations around the world. This effort led to an incredible set of Lego-user generated content and product innovations that continue to make the brand more modern and relevant.

As marketers (and good humans), we have an opportunity to develop content that helps our target consumers and shoppers to make, to do and to live in the real world. And that’s even more important now that we’re working almost exclusively in the world of digital.

Highlights from Cannes: Keith Barry Brings Magic to Marketing

The highlight of the Saturday’s sessions at the Palais was Keith Barry: a hypnotist, mentalist and magician. What, exactly does magic have to do with marketing? The answer could be… everything. Ken Hertz from memBrain interviewed Barry focusing on the power of suggestion and the ways our subconscious minds can be persuaded from reality. Barry uses hypnotic techniques, psychology, and neuro-linguistic programming. The use of key words and guided prompts can alter another person’s reality, sensitizing them to other realities.

Perception is everything
For instance, Barry put the thought of himself in a bath, having a “good scrub” into the mind of an audience volunteer. Then he put her hand into a box and asked her to feel and identify an object inside. She guessed the object was a “squishy sponge”. It was actually a very hard rock. We couldn’t believe our eyes. He performed several versions of this trick—all ending with the same shocking results.

Not a mind reader, an observationalist
For his next trick, he asked us to think of a question about ourselves that no one could guess. He then began to guess the questions and then nailed each one—from a first girlfriend’s name to a make of a favorite car to ATM pin numbers! Barry maintains he is not a mind-reader, but a thought-reader and observationalist. His take: though we like to think we’re so unique and special, people are actually quite similar in many ways. Because 90% of communication is non-verbal, you can read people’s body language, movements, facial cues & micro-expressions to tell what what’s going on inside their heads. Think of it more as brain-hacking than a brain-reading.

How can we apply the tricks of the trade?
The million (or billion?) dollar question now is how can we, as marketers, employ Barry’s approach in our campaigns and content? Are we doing it already? The world of facial recognition and artificial intelligence has given us some advanced tools but are we using them correctly? Influencing consumer behavior and creating demand, love, and preference for products and services is only part of our remit. The key moving forward is to work our magic—translating our learnings into messages and experiences that sell.