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Lessons on marketing from Will Smith

Will Smith

He might be better known as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but actor and singer Will Smith said today that he considers himself a marketer, and offered up the advice that brands should shift their focus "from product to people".

After a long career spent in the movie and music business Smith said that he went through a period of time where he became too hungry for success and was also too focused on "winning" rather than promoting something that he believed in.

"The power is now in the hand of the audience, and in the hand of the fans and as someone who wants to market material globally the only choice I have is to be in tune with their needs and not try to trick them into going to see Wild Wild West," he told an audience at Cannes Lions.

"I had so much success that I started to taste global blood. And my focus shifted from my artistry to winning and I wanted to win and be the biggest movie star in the world. What happened is that there was a lag and a slump in my career where I found myself promoting something because I wanted to win versus promoting something because I believed it was helpful."

The Independence Day star also said that he learned a lesson from his daughter Willow Smith, who at the age of 10 years old had a hit record, was on tour and decided that she wanted to go home. Smith said that he realised there was "no sales pitch" he could make to her to get her to stay because she didn’t want to, a realisation that he added has to be applied to marketing.

"Selling, marketing, creating, cannot be about me. My parenting is connected to the way that I make movies, it is connected to the way that I interact with people…There was no sales pitch that I could make to her to sell my idea because she didn’t want it.

"For me there was a huge shift in the idea that you have got to spend the majority of time understanding the other person and not building and creating the other thing that you want to do.

"No matter how great it is, if people don’t want it, you are not going to sell it. The deepest comprehension for me is a shift from product to people and when you shift from product to people I am trusting that If I have a deeper comprehension of people the product that I create is going to be more successful."

Smith also spoke for the first time in public about his company Just Water, a water company that uses plant-based plastic to lower the carbon footprint of water bottles. Sold in the US and Canada in Whole Foods, the company is the brain child of Smith's son Jaden who was concerned about the amount of plastic that is found in the ocean.

"At the core of the company is the idea that a ten year old was incensed about the future of the planet. And when you start with that seed it's hard to go wrong. You might not create the biggest thing ever but it's really hard to go wrong." Smith said.