It’s simply impossible, in this space, to write about everything I was able to see at Cannes Lions 2015. Actually, it’s impossible to describe everything without writing 200 pages. But in summary, I can say that practically all speakers (clients, agencies, market analysts, tech nerds, Silicon Valley billionaires, startups, filmmakers, investors, journalists, celebrities, and yes, even one robot) spoke about brand purpose.
Of course, this is nothing new. Brand purpose has been widely discussed for a while now, at all levels of corporate leadership. And anyone who thinks that it is a synonym for social responsibility is wrong. “Purpose” is something that goes way beyond; it is something that defines a brand’s raison d’être.
Think about the place where you work, whether you are an owner or an employee. Now, ask yourself what gap would be left in the world if the company vanished today. A well-founded purpose answers this question in 3 seconds.
But enough theory. One of the most interesting moments of the festival was the heated debate between former Vice American President Al Gore and the CEO of WPP, Martin Sorrell. Over the course of approximately 40 minutes, the Briton bombarded Al Gore with delicate questions, giving him almost no time to respond. It was question after question on ethics, business, politics, money, Steve Jobs, technology, and, of course, the environment. Always with a tongue-in-cheek tone that made the audience laugh.
But, if anyone thought there would be an awkward moment in that debate, they would have been wrong. That didn’t happen until the next presentation, when Scot Keith and Bryan Collins, founders of One Twenty Three West, an independent agency from Canada, got up on stage to talk about the challenges of opening a business. Right at the start of the presentation, Scot put a gigantic photo of Martin Sorrell up on the screen and asked, “How can we trust a market whose CEO earned 67 million in one year, and you haven’t had a raise for two?”.
We will never know if that part of the show had already been planned, or if they took the opportunity to stir up controversy at the last minute, when they found out that the previous talk was given by the all-powerful of WPP. The fact is that a reflection took place in the auditorium. The same type of reflection that happens, on a much larger scale, when people find out that there is a difference between the words and the practices of the brands they consume.
We live in an age when everyone is exposed: brands, people, companies, countries, cities, organizations and governments. Literally, everyone. And, in a scenario such as this, someone who says one thing and does another can be kicked out of the match. At the very least, he’ll be lambasted on Twitter.
The slight malaise caused by the provocation towards Sorrell probably won’t have any effect on the advertising market, or its salary policies. But that is the proof that nowadays there is nowhere to hide: you will always be questioned, no matter your size, market value, sales volume or political influence.
If, on one hand, many see this context as a dangerous minefield, the truly transparent brands (or those that are willing to take up this challenge) dive right in and earn more and more space. You don’t even need to look outside Brazil to see this. The companies that come out best are those that know how to relax and recognize their weaknesses before changing course.
An example is the case of Brazilian restaurant chain Spoleto laughing at itself two years ago, in the viral film by Brazilian video production company Porta dos Fundos. Or the case of the Brazilian bank Itaú repositioning its capitalization bond, the so-called PIC, starting to sell it as a luck product–no longer as an investment. When words are truly aligned with a brand’s raison d’être, everything makes sense.
Back to the case of Itaú, whose objective is to improve people’s lives. Doesn’t it make sense to develop products and services that improve Brazilians’ relationship with money? Yes. Thus, the repositioning of the PIC.
In the debate with Sorrell, one of the funniest moments was when Al Gore interrupted him and stated, energetically, “I love how you jump from one question to another without letting me answer. Let me finish!” The audience erupted in laughter because it was the most human moment of the conversation. Human, real, subject to errors: exactly the same attributes that make people respect, admire, and become fans of a brand.
Airbnb, Uber and Buycott are a few examples of brands that already had extremely developed purposes when they were born. It’s not by chance that they make the giants uncomfortable. The big difficulty for the veterans, like the hotel sector, is that brands that are able to turn purpose into relevance for the world (even those that are extremely new) have the consumer’s approval. Not only that, they converse with the consumer like many markets never have.
Over the six intense days of the festival, many people addressed the main challenge facing companies today: the fact that people want to connect with a brand’s deepest values, and not just with what they sell. So, my friend, brands that say one thing and do another, not just those that refuse to establish a dialog, are out of the game.
That is true for everything, and everyone must be ready to be questioned. Believe it: there will be a lot of questions.
Scot Keith himself experienced this, just seconds after projecting that gigantic image of Martin Sorrell in his talk. An apparently annoyed man shouted out from the audience something like, “Sorrell is worth much more than 67 million!” Scot, feeling noticeably bad, retorted, “Are you his agent?” Then, at that moment, I and hundreds of others witnessed a small snapshot of what real life is today: all conversations are two-way streets, live, in front of everyone. And the eight ball can be just around the corner. Be prepared.[:]