Transparency and Brand Purpose Dominated Cannes

Every year, there are questions about whether Cannes Lions is “worth it.” But many agree it’s still a valuable venue to bring everyone in the industry together in a unique context and mindset and where important conversations happen that can shape the next year for the market. From consumer privacy to advertiser transparency, there aren’t many other global events like Cannes that allow for idea sharing and discussion as we face a period of significant change for the industry.  

We saw the power of Cannes firsthand. For my company, Verizon Media, we brought a whole new brand to the show—under the new Verizon 2.0 strategy—and to clients, embracing our own change as we go forward in 2019 and beyond. 

Through our conversations with customers and partners, there were also two core issues that emerged that will likely shape the rest of the year, well into 2020. Here’s what they were.

Transparency is driving change 

The big topic of the week was industry change, driven largely by transparency. Agencies are evaluating opportunities and challenges to their business model as buyers demand more oversight of media, fees, and attribution. Increasing interest in ad tech in-housing has also stoked soul-searching.

On the platform side, we saw walled-garden UGCs like Facebook and YouTube admit missteps on privacy, brand safety, and fake news, likely in an effort to address growing threats from both regulators and advertisers. Media companies and publishers are also evolving and becoming more data-centric because brands are seeking out greater clarity on audience metrics, behavior, and demographics.

Across the ecosystem, significant changes are underway or coming. Right now, transparency is the common factor pushing everything forward. You couldn’t walk down the Croisette in Cannes without hearing about it.

Brands need a purpose

At Cannes, every brand talked about reflecting an authentic, real world in its marketing—from the people in front of and behind the cameras, to the creative and targeting strategies. The campaigns that seemed the most likely to succeed were all “purpose-centric,” with the brand rallying around a specific and common cause.

P&G, for example, announced an impressive slate of purpose-driven campaigns, tackling everything from toxic masculinity to social justice. Brands were also keen to highlight campaigns in support of diversity and inclusion, with the LGBTQ community a key focus given Pride.

These efforts align with consumer preferences, as studies bear out that more than half of Gen Z favors socially-conscious brands, but it was also clear that brands need to have an authentic approach across their entire business or face being called out if they’re merely trying to wear it as a badge in their marketing. Along these lines, it is also critical for brands to use emerging media channels—think VR, AR, and digital video, all of which are expected to proliferate further as 5G grows—to get in front of a Gen-Z audience with immersive and authentic stories. 

The embrace of purpose on display at Cannes was a refreshing shift compared to even three years ago, when marketers were more conservative about these issues for fear of alienating customers. Today, it’s clearer than ever that brands understand that reflecting people’s values, especially in younger audiences, offers a sense of shared experience and more reason to engage.

Neither of these themes—transparency nor purpose-driven marketing—are necessarily new, of course. But the way in which they were discussed at Cannes reinforced the fact that they will continue to dominate discussions well into next year. There is a lot of progress being made in both areas as brands evolve their strategies. Still, it feels like we’re just scratching the surface, with much more change on the horizon.

Ivan Markman is chief business officer at Verizon Media.

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