fbpixel Three lessons from Cannes Lions 2023. - MG Empower
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Written by - Raphael Bouquillon

Three lessons from Cannes Lions 2023.


Coming back from Cannes last week, I feel inspired by what leading brands shared about their key drivers of success. It’s easy to get caught up in short-term business priorities, especially in a less-than-favourable economic climate, but looking at the brands who grow over time, there are three key learnings I want to keep applying in my day-to-day work with clients. 

Differentiation: Stand for something

While AI was the talk of the town, Unilever shared that they were fighting another, more tangible threat: a lack of brand differentiation. With the abundance of brands available and the relative parity of product offerings amongst them, a key differentiator has to be the brand preference. If you’re only focused on buying optimized programmatic with traffic driving growth, you are only creating short-term movement without building long-term connections with your consumer. 

As marketers, it is our role to create a world around our brands, to go beyond a functional product offering and connect with the hearts & minds of our consumers if we want to build brands for the future. While it is tempting to drive short-term, bottom line growth, investing in brand at the top of the funnel is key. 

Dove is managing to toe the line of driving a successful business in-store while also being the award shows’ darling, and the two are related in their case because the brand building work drives in-store preference. For our clients, we do this by co-creating brand platforms with communities to make sure we add to the conversation with a differentiated point of view – like we did with Naomi Watts for Stripes in the menopause space or with Tia Mowry with 4U by Tia for women with naturally curly hair.

Creativity: Take risks

For many brands, it can feel safer to produce work that gain alignment through all internal layers and doesn’t upset anyone. But listening to leading players praise the positive impact of creativity is a fresh reminder to keep pushing for good work. 

At P&G, for example, the vision is clear: creativity grows markets. So they have a bullish focus on resetting the bar there. For Mattel, taking creative risks like creating an irreverent movie based on their biggest franchise, Barbie, is already paying off tenfold before the movie has even premiered. And it’s easy to just credit that to the legacy of the Barbie brand – but that would be forgetting that just a few years ago their sales were down double digit, and the brand was falling down for promoting unattainable beauty standards. So opening commentary on the tropes of Barbie was a bold move. 

Last but not least, Tor Myren from Apple shared key learnings for agencies & marketers, two of which have really stuck with me. At Apple, in order to get good creative work out, they minimise approval layers as they tend to soften the strength of creative ideas. And on the agency side, he encouraged leads to keep pushing for good work rather than being agreeable. In his words: “We pay you to challenge us, we can pay anyone to agree with us”. 

P&G, Mattel and Apple can sometimes feel like they are on a different level for some brands, but their playbook is clear and can be replicated.

Purpose: Have a positive impact on the world

To stand out and create a clear lane for your brand, having a strong brand purpose is key. In conversation during our panel with AdAge, Francisco Costa from Costa Brazil and Firdaous El Honsali from Dove, shared how the purpose behind their brands drives their success. 

For Costa Brazil, it is creating a positive impact on the Amazon that drove Francisco to build a brand rooted in sustainability and giving back. For Dove, it’s the negative impact of beauty standards on women that drives everything the brand does to promote real beauty. 

In both cases, clear purpose generates positive reactions from communities and influencers, enabling the brands to go further with their activations because it garners positive sentiment, which leads to virality. With their campaign centred around ‘turning your back on digital distortion’ – which was co-created with their influencer community – Dove achieved billions of impressions in just a few days without a massive investment because their purpose connected with the heart of their community. 

From promoting diversity across all aspects including skin tone, hair types, age, body size, to championing conversations to change narratives & even sometimes laws, consumers expect more from brands now so being proactive in building an authentic brand purpose and living it through everything you do is both a necessity and an opportunity.

Raphael Bouquillon is the Managing Director of MG Empower’s US branch. As a digital marketing and advertising specialist with 17 years’ experience working with some of the world’s best-known brands, he’s all about developing partnerships and assembling a world-class team to drive impact for our partners. 

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