Maciek Nowicki
Jun 27, 2016

Cannes 2016: From awareness to advocacy to activism

Not all trends that get 'Lion-ised' at Cannes have staying power. The exception is brand advocacy like that practised by Unilever.

Maciek Nowicki
Maciek Nowicki

Cannes Lions is like one big fortune teller tent, filled to the brim with people desperate to catch a glimpse of the future as told by the beautiful dark-haired girl holding a crystal ball. The demand for it is such that one doesn’t need to be the proverbial Gypsy with golden rings and bangles to attract the crowds. Many predictions at Cannes turn out to be dead wrong, though very few fortune tellers are ready to admit past mistakes.

Last week, the agency behind ‘Philips Carousel’, which won the Film Grand Prix at Cannes 2009, recalled the Jury reasoning behind the win. Back then, they saw the future as belonging to interactive films, and so they decided to award ‘Carousel’ as a sort of pathfinder for things to come. The reality in 2016 is completely different, of course.

But as with everything else, there are exceptions. I was pleased to see a major brand at Cannes deploying its vision of the future which seems to be well positioned to last. It is about going beyond the brand purpose, beyond product functionalities and features to find a shareable mission, and then to act upon it.

The true trailblazer of this ‘brand advocacy’ trend was Unilever's OMO/Persil which in 2006 (ages ago by our industry standards) decided to fundamentally change its narrative. It emigrated from the positioning orbiting around the product benefits and effectiveness of stain removal to 'Dirt is good'. Later, other brands—Dove, Ariel, AirWick—followed suit.

Since then, OMO/Persil has acted and expanded on its philosophy and created 600 playgrounds around the world where children can go and get properly dirty. And just a few weeks ago, OMO/Persil started a project (#freeplayeveryday), together with famous educator Sir Ken Robinson, aimed at promoting outdoors play for children.

And so we see a shift in the brand, from an expert on washing to becoming a trusty family advisor. This is how a lot of brands are engaging with consumers these days but why are ‘campaigning brands’ so important? And why is it poised to stay? It’s the potential to make a difference between life and death. For the brand, that is. Either a brand goes beyond its purpose, finds a mission, and then starts to act upon it, or it dies.

In this day and age, where the breakneck speed of technological change and progress gives brands opportunity to be present in consumers lives 24/7, brands need a narrative that goes beyond their product features. Would you let a brand into your digital life only to be repeatedly reminded about its 67 percent higher absorption factor, or its superior softness?

Brands need a much broader narrative based on common values to became a true companion, accepted, welcomed and even wanted by consumers. Whether it is challenging gender norms or stereotypes, saving the environmental or pushing for sustainable development, brands have an important role to play in the conversation that happens and can be a powerful force in leading positive change.

According to Richard Curtis, screenwriter and director: “Purpose-driven business is a hugely powerful idea for the future,” therefore marketers needs to tell businesses what they can change in order to have a bigger impact on consumers.

But more than just building affinity, growing evidence shows that going beyond brand purpose can help drive the business too. Unilever reveals that its sustainable brands (or brands with purpose) grew 30 percent faster than the rest of its portfolio, and delivered nearly half of its growth in 2015.

Numbers aside, Keith Weed, Unilever CMO summed it up best: “These are brands with purpose, brands that matter, brands with real meaning, and people are engaging with them, and engaging with them at scale.”

There is this notion that in 10 years’ time, 40 percent of the Fortune 500 brands will be dead. While it’s not possible to predict the names, it’s easy to see the path that is leading toward that firing squad. There is a sign along the way saying: “Those who want to keep focusing purely on product features and functionalities, please follow this road.”

Maciek Nowicki is chief creative officer, South and Southeast Asia, at Isobar. Follow Isobar's Cannes Lions conversation on Twitter @Isobar #CreativeXDigital.

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