This article was originally published on Business Insider.
I’m feeling apprehensive about this year’s Cannes Lions Festival. No, it’s not the prospect of over-indulging. I’ve come to hear the most pertinent insights for our clients and teams and desperately hoping that our industry will move beyond lofty words and manifestos to concrete actions and milestones. And while I see three tensions emerging, so far the deadlines seem elusive.
The first tension is over data and privacy. Consumers clearly want to control their digital destiny, despite the argument of some platforms that users have “zero expectation of privacy.” Brands must grasp that people are contrarian by nature and that what was acceptable yesterday may be deemed terrible tomorrow; business success is the ability to respond and adapt accordingly.
The second is that greater creativity needs more diverse teams. But let’s see the results, because in 2019, the merits of having a diverse workforce should not be up for debate.
The third, and it’s the tension that gives me greatest reason to pause, is the push and pull between purpose and profit. There’s never been a shortage of cause-centered conversations. But it’s time to start talking about purpose and define what purposeful performance really looks like.
The new rules
The business mandate is already there. According to a 2018 study, nearly two thirds of consumers prefer to buy goods from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs, and almost half are willing to shift from current brands to parity products with better purpose. Brands and partners that are genuinely listening to consumers must accept that the pivot to purpose demands widespread organizational transformation. It’s a pivot that impacts systems, teams, and processes, and should be measured according to business inputs, outputs, and outcomes.
I was initially encouraged to see that the festival organizers had identified “The New Rules on Brand Purpose” as one of 10 main themes for Cannes 2019, until I saw the questions around which they are framing the discussions, including:
In a polarized society, does brand activism have a role and how can we do this authentically and meaningfully – without fallout?
Just how important is brand purpose to millennials and future generations and how do we build brands that are inherently based on ethical principles?
Do we focus too much on purpose at the expense of good, creative, product-shifting marketing?
If we ask any of these questions, let alone all three, we’ve missed the point.
Searching for purpose at Cannes
So I’ve decided to color outside the lines this week. Rather than following the agenda, I’m going to go on my own expedition, searching for both optimism and inspiration — to see who’s course correcting at speed and who’s doing an effective job of giving consumers products that they can wear/drink drive/buy in all good conscience.
I will be searching for a sign that brands — and agencies — understand that consumers vote with their wallets and their feet, walking towards the brands that turn empathy into action, that recognize the cultural shift toward are looking our better selves, and that commit to making the world a better place.
I will be searching for any indication that the industry — at long last – understands that the act of purchase can become the easiest, most accessible and repeatable act of good that most people can make. And it can measured, in terms of doing good and doing well.
To put it more succinctly, at a festival that that has long been defined by platitudes, pontificating, and partying, I will be searching for purpose.
Wish me luck.