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Hunting charisma at Cannes: how brand magnetism creates winning ideas

What is charisma? It’s a word that’s frequently used to characterise leaders. Something that’s difficult to quantify and rationalise. It’s not beauty. It’s not sex appeal. It’s not just power, or strength, or vision. It’s a quality that some people ‘just have’, and that most people don’t. We are drawn to charismatic people, without being able to explain why.

As all eyes in the industry turn towards the south of France for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, at jkr we’ll be watching closely for how the world’s most charismatic brands impress the judges, and to see if those with charisma are also the most creative and the most effective.

Can brands be charismatic? We believe that they can. Just as charismatic people have a magnetism that attracts us, so do charismatic brands. Charisma is a highly desirable quality in a brand because it provokes an emotional response. And as we know, brands that appeal to our emotions are the only ones we feel moved to care about.

We’ve been studying some of the world’s most successful brands to find out what makes one brand charismatic and another lacklustre. We’ve collaborated with a zoologist, an adman, a casting agent, a semiotician, a leadership advisor and a youth specialist to get under the skin of charisma. We’ve worked with a data house and evaluated past IPA effectiveness winners to positively correlate brand charisma with brand growth. And we’re betting that this year at Cannes it will be the most charismatic brands that are judged the most creative.

We’ve identified five qualities typically exhibited by charismatic brands. Here they are, along with some award-winning work from brands that display them.


Charismatic brands feel alive. They connect with you emotionally and instinctively. They shock you out of your stupor, tug at your heartstrings, they kick you in the guts. Honda’s Sound of Senna (Dentsu Tokyo, 2014 Titanium Grand Prix) is an utterly electrifying and visceral experience – a memory made hauntingly real and ‘vital’ by this visionary dreaming brand.


Charismatic brands attract people towards them, pulling instead of pushing. They cross over from isolated brand to cultural commodity. The man my man could smell like is currently on a horse (Old Spice/Wieden & Kennedy, 2010 Grand Prix), so wassup with that? (Budweiser/DDB Chicago, 2000 Grand Prix). Charismatic brands frequently enter the fabric of our culture, becoming part of us, as we become part of them.


Charismatic brands are authentic – they have integrity and truth. Not an absolute truth, of course, but brands that are faithful to their own truth, provided it is a distinctive truth, are extremely compelling. Marmite’s ‘love it or hate it’ idea locates it in a foundation of brand truth, giving it a strong compass that governs all brand behaviours (‘Neglect’/adam&eveDDB, 2014 Gold Lion). Ok, so it might not be crusading for a big social good, but Marmite still has its own kind of bravery.


Charismatic brands do more than just sell stuff. They have a point, a vision. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a social vision, like Chipotle’s quest for ethical food (Creative Artists Agency, 2014, 3 Gold Lions) or Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty (Ogilvy Brazil, 2013 Titanium Grand Prix), but it does need to give the brand purpose. People believe in brands that believe in something, whether it’s the ‘progress’ behind Johnnie Walker (BBH, 2010 Gold Lion), or the moment of childhood wonder that Oreo believes we’re all entitled to (‘Daily Twist’/Draftfcb, 2013 Cyber Grand Prix).


Charismatic brands have personalities that feel ‘real’. They are multi-faceted and richly storied. If you engage with them, they reveal new dimensions. Consider Guinness (‘Surfer’, 1999 Gold Lion and ‘Sapeurs’, 2014 Silver Lion both AMV BBDO) a brand whose dimensionality permits endless variations on a couple of key creative themes.

All of these brands have that magical magnetism we call charisma. And of course they all display more than just one of the five qualities we’ve defined above.

What they have in common is that by harnessing charisma, they have all found a way to transcend reason and appeal to our emotions. That’s why charismatic brands are the ones that get noticed and chosen, and why we at jkr are #fansofcannes.

To find out more about Charisma by Design™, visit

Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jones knowles ritchie Singapore

Tel: 0207 4288000



Twitter: @jkrGlobal

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