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Cannes Briefing: After anti-‘woke’ marketing backlash, purpose-driven messaging reconsidered — plus CMO video series

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Digiday covers that latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →

Last year, the Cannes Lions festival could have been considered the purpose-driven marketing hype house as purpose driven ads dominated the awards show. If you recall, EA Sports and the Kiyan Prince Foundation’s “Long live the Prince” campaign, created by Engine London, won the Titanium Grand Prix. It was a campaign against knife violence.

But after major brands like Bud Light, Miller Lite and Adidas faced backlash for being “woke,” marketers have spent this year’s Cannes reconsidering authenticity as it pertains to purpose in an increasingly polarized society. That said, only a handful of panels focused on the topic this year, including a talk with the likes of Mondelez, Ogilvy and VCCP on Thursday, and a luncheon panel from Mars, Inc. on Wednesday.

Greg Wolny, chief activation officer at Code3 said he’s heard very little on the topic since the festival started. “There’s been a lot of hypocrisy around that. People have stepped away from it,” he said. “People are stepping back like, maybe we don’t talk about that. Right or wrong. Maybe not.”

For the last few weeks, AB InBev has been under fire over its partnership with transgender influencer and activist Dylan Mulvaney. It’s a peculiar position to be in building up to the Cannes Lions festival, the industry’s biggest event of the year.  Especially as it was the winner of the Creative Marketer of the Year award for a second year in a row, the only brand to achieve that distinction the history of the festival.

The company has been largely silent on the matter — beyond putting execs on leave in response to the backlash, according to Newsweek. Marcel Marcondes, AB InBev global CMO, used the first few minutes of his Creative Marketer of the Year Seminar on Monday in Cannes to vaguely address it.

“In times like this, when things get divisive and controversial so easily, I think it’s an important wakeup call to all of us marketers for us to be very humble,” he said. “And we need to remind ourselves of what we should do best every day, which is to really understand our consumers, which is to really celebrate and appreciate every consumer that loves our brands, but in a way that can make them be together, not apart.”

Marcondes’ message signals that the backlash to woke marketing may be on the minds of attendees at this year’s creativity festival.

For some delegates, the conversation has been long overdue. 

“We see a lot of brands out there that have shallow commitment to causes,” said Jones Krahl, U.S. head of creative, brand and advertising, and creative fellow at Deloitte Digital. “That is extremely dangerous to brands. It doesn’t surprise me that a lot of this is happening right now.”

To Krahl, it’s not that purpose doesn’t have a place in advertising. It’s that authenticity has seemingly been largely left out of those efforts. Meaning brands rushed to embrace and co-opt sociopolitical causes that weren’t necessarily related to the brand’s product or service.

Milton Correa, who also serves as U.S. head of creative, brand and advertising, and is a creative fellow at Deloitte Digital, said, “It’s something that needs to be done very consciously and very responsibly as well. It’s not something that you’re just pursuing for a marketing pitch.”

He added, “Sometimes when this gets to be producing to an industrial scale, it starts to sometimes lose focus of what was the intention.” 

Essentially, as brand purpose became trendy, some went overboard, pandering to communities outside of their range. Eventually, the lack of authenticity caught up causing a slump in sales and a dip in brand reputation. In the case of Bud Light, sales volumes of the beer brand for the week ending May 13 sank 28.4%, according to NBC News and beverage industry trade publication Beer Business Daily

But the pressure from consumers may be the wake up call advertisers needed. 

Stacy Malone, Pinterest’s vp of global business marketing puts it this way: “If you’re authentic to who you are and what your values are as a company, that’s where your purpose driven marketing comes through.”

Digiday and Teads Cannes CMO video series

Digiday and Teads this week partnered on a two-day video series with senior brand marketers in which we discussed the most important topics covered at this year’s Cannes Lions that they’ll bring back to their respective companies and teams with intentionality on change and new action.

The topics included, of course, generative AI, the growing importance of attention metrics, the opportunities for brands in the CTV space and the effort to make media and marketing more sustainable.

Monique Pintarelli, Teads president of North America (above) kicked off the video series Wednesday morning and was followed by Jill Cress, chief marketing and experience officer at H&R Block, Jonathan Adashek, chief communications officer and senior vp of marketing and communications at IBM, and Linda Boff, global CMO at GE. The series’ second-day interviews will publish Friday morning. — Jim Cooper

Jill Cress, chief marketing and experience officer, H&R Block

Jonathan Adashek, chief communications officer and senior vp of marketing and communications, IBM

Linda Boff, global CMO, GE

Elsewhere from Cannes

Why Tinx doesn’t think AI will be good for creators.

Tom Triscari assessed the potential and challenges facing IAS, DoubleVerify, Magnite, OpenX, Criteo, Cognitiv and Experian.

Fresh off announcing a sales-side platform called Commerce Grid together a week ago, Omnicom Media Group and commerce media company Criteo are collaborating on a data and clean-room partnership enabled by InfoSum.

Spotted

Actress Jameela Jamil who was in town doing her own speaking circuit at Cannes panels.

Overheard

“This industry loves new babies. Birth announcements and obituaries. That’s it.” — an executive speaking on industry trends at Cannes

Newcomer tip

The finish line is just on the horizon. Start to wind down, stop over scheduling yourself and consider what your takeaways from this week will be.

Featured activation: Reddit

Reddit set up along the beach playing up the way people shop after reading through Reddit recommendations. With two floors and sea views, Reddit’s space features a daily product drop to those who stop by.

What to do

11:30 a.m. See the battle over attention play out in a panel discussion between GroupM, Netflix, The New York Times and TikTok at WPP Beach.

Noon to 12:30 p.m. Hear from Epic Games and The LEGO Group on building partnerships for “the next iteration of the internet” at Palais II Stage, Palais II.

3:45 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. A spotlight on the importance of investing in Black talent will be placed by Cephas Williams, founder of Black British Network at Debussy Theatre, Palais I.

Nightcap

4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Twitch happy hour with a “renowned Twitch streamer” at Amazon Port, Plaza Stage & Le Café.

5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Celebrate YouTube Pride featuring Years & Years and Tayce at Google Beach.

10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Havas Cannes party at Havas Cafe.

Elsewhere from the newsroom

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