The world of brand marketing and advertising is getting divided into two halves - real and fake. And a prototype of this world is at display at the Cannes Lions Festival 2014. Whether it's the speeches, the brand showcase or the award winning work - things that are connecting with people are the ones that have a touch of authenticity in them. Put-on is the biggest put-off here.
When you are going to address some 3,000 delegates of a creative industry at Cannes, I am sure it brings its own pressure. So what do you do - do you write everything that you're going to speak on your slides and read out your speech, moving between two monitors on the stage? I suppose you could, as some high profile speakers did at Cannes Lions 2014. But they played safe and ended up talking to themselves rather than the audience. Alternatively, you could bring yourself - your experience and your personality - and use the material in the room to have a conversation with the audience. This is risky, you may forget your lines, you may mumble a bit, but you will connect. Of course in both cases you need to know what you want to talk about. But the first one is rehearsed perfectness while the other is planned spontaneity. One is practised, other is authentic. One is fake, the other is real.
The art of staying real is to my mind the most important conversation this year at Cannes. Like every year, this year too, there have been many celebrity speakers at Cannes Lions. But those who connected with audience were the ones who were free flowing and authentic - David Hasselhoff spoke about embracing all the 'Hoff' jokes on him and using it to his advantage, Sir Patrick Stewart credited the revival of his career to his discovery of Twitter. Jared Leto - musician, director, producer - had the audience in splits with his spontaneity. Courtney Love was herself - raw and real. Amongst the brand presentations, Chuck Porter of CP&B, Nikesh Arora of Google, Wendy Clark of Coke, cut out the bullshit and connected to the audience. At the same time there were enough other jargon-laced, appropriately worded presentations, but they failed to tickle anything in the audience.
The analogy works for brands too. The time for rehearsed marketing seems to be over, or at least doesn't look so exciting anymore. It's time for imperfection, rawness, slipping-up at times, yet being who you are. Coca Cola's Wendy Clark spoke at length on real time marketing and how Coke's social hub in Atlanta continuously listens to social conversations and feeds back relevant content. Google's Nikesh Arora illustrated how technology can be useful in solving larger problems of life. One such project being the project Iris - contact lenses with built-in microprocessor. If you are diabetic, you need not prick yourself anymore, these lenses can continuously monitor your glucose levels.
A piece of work which is winning across categories is the Harvey Nichols idea of self-gifting. 'Sorry I Spent It On Myself' is a range of products to gift yourself during Christmas. It leverages a powerful motivation of selfishness or self-indulgence if you like to be polite. Similarly, the hand-band that tracks your child on the beach so that he doesn't stray beyond a certain radius is a powerful idea that meets a real need and elevates Nivea Sun to another level as a brand. Most of the winning work that makes you go wow have this quality - they have an emotion which is raw, intense and amplifies our imperfection rather than paintbrush our identity!
(Dheeraj Sinha is chief strategy officer, Grey, South and South East Asia)
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