Coming to Cannes: Brand safety hand-wringing

This is the time of the woke CMO. Marketers have typically avoided controversy, but we live in strange times.

Look no further than the situations in which JPMorgan Chase, Delta and Bank of America found themselves. JPMorgan Chase’s CMO, Kristin Lemkau, took to Twitter to denounce NBC for giving airtime to conspiracy theorist and Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones in an upcoming episode of Megyn Kelly’s new show. The bank then pulled advertising from the show. Similarly, Delta used Twitter as well to denounce The Public Theater for a “Julius Caesar” performance that alludes to Donald Trump getting the knife. Heavens. Delta also pulled its sponsorship, along with Bank of America.

Our co-executive editor Shareen Pathak is working on a piece examining the idea of the woke CMO, which runs counter to the stereotype of risk-averse CMOs, always in fear of losing their jobs. Here’s Shareen’s take:

“CMOs have always been the scared sort. Short tenures and the dispensable nature of the marketing function has meant most of them have adhered to a decades-old church-state divide. But these are strange times. CMOs are now becoming public faces of brands (just look at Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall) and are exercising their voices in a way that represents themselves, but also the company. It can be great for a personal brand when you don’t have job security. And don’t forget the research: Being ‘woke’ is good for business, as any strategist will tell you. The problem is this: Brands are the scared sort. And it’s been shown time and time again that they’ll do anything if enough public pressure is put on them. I don’t know how long this will last.”

Politics will be front and center with brands at Cannes Lions next week. One focus for me there is to speak to top marketers about how they’re navigating this tricky climate. On the one hand, there’s pressure for marketers to be outspoken regarding fake news and the coarsening of culture. There’s also more pressure than ever around brand safety. One of the key storylines of Cannes will be around this topic, admittedly pushed by many premium publishers trying to get some focus off platforms.

Digiday @ Cannes
I’m heading to Cannes with our senior reporter Sahil Patel. We will produce a daily morning email newsletter, along with a special daily edition of the Digiday Podcast. For the email, expect highlights of the day to come, what we’re hearing in private talks and at parties, and some fun at the absurdity of Cannes. (Cannes is best not taken too seriously, since it’s a carnival of the crassest of capitalism.)

I’m still lining up podcasts for the week. One confirmed guest is Jim Egan, CEO of BBC Worldwide. Jim and I plan to discuss the rise of fake news, how that changes a media entity’s role and what the media can do to regain people’s trust.

Finally, we’re trying an experiment at Cannes to bring our Confessions series to the Croisette. We’ve set up a hotline to take Cannes Confessions, either through text or voicemail. It should be interesting to see what comes through. Try it out at +1 855-LE-TRUTH (+1 855-538-7884), or just email us at

Please get in touch if you’ll be in Cannes and want to meet with us — our chief client officer Paul Borselli and Europe commercial director Thom Pickering will round out the team. We want to carve out time for an informal cocktail with Plus members on Thursday.

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