As the time of year approaches when the advertising industry supplants Hollywood’s finest on the French Riviera and the annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity takes over from the Cannes Film Festival, my thoughts turn to the changes our industry has seen over the year.
Yes, there’s more tech, more discussion of AI, VR and UX. But in talking to our clients, the one thing that keeps them up at night is the recurring concern that major brands are operating in an increasingly intangible, virtual commercial world; a world where more transactions happen virtually, more judgements are made virtually and more value is created virtually. It can feel like a turbulent, chaotic era – but within that I see great opportunity.
A New Commercial Landscape
Mention advertising to anybody on the street and their reference point will probably be Mad Men – a portrait of the golden age of advertising in a bygone era in which the protagonists made their mint by creating a single, specific TV advert or billboard for a very specific and tangible product, be it washing powder or soft drinks.
Today our clients’ balance sheets are full of intangible assets. Channels are fragmented, multitudinous and a single-ad strategy no longer cuts it. In fact, a significant and increasing portion of advertising no longer even relates to a product. Take Xbox, for example, and its latest Visit Xbox campaign which doesn’t promote a specific game but a whole experience within the virtual in-game environment, much as a tourist board would.
Brand Responsibility as an Opportunity
Products are increasingly experiences. With this knowledge, brands have a valuable opportunity to elevate themselves among their competition by strengthening their brand proposition and to connect with the consumer on a new, meaningful level.
In reality, it’s more than an opportunity – it’s now a consumer expectation that brands will connect on a more profound level than product alone. They must have a purpose, role and voice beyond commerciality to create enduring strength.
Major brands have already cottoned on to this; Aldi goes beyond the value proposition for which it first made its mark and is now changing brand perception, while L’Oréal has long been promoting social good above and beyond its latest make-up range.
Today’s brand marketers have a responsibility to be fluent in strategic and creative communication. As digital used to be the domain of the tech guys but now pervades every part of every business, we must also place awareness of a social role at the core of our businesses. A token CSR offering through the HR team isn’t enough.
A New Golden Age for Advertising
The superpower that can communicate to the heart of the consumer on these issues is creativity. Creativity informed by the mass of data that is now available via the mass of signals we communicate about what we’re doing both off- and on-line, but creativity that gets its magic, above all, from human understanding and empathy.
We are in another golden age of advertising. It just looks different. It can be disorientating, but we are the industry that has traded in ideas for decades - we understand intangible. The power of creativity is still the key driver for us – the constant within our industry and an anchor for the commercial world despite the changes around us.
But creativity must be effective!
At the core of the creative industry sits the importance of effectiveness - after all, in the commercial world a creative idea is only good if it works. But measuring effectiveness can be a tricky business.
Despite all the data and tech that is now available, today’s customer journeys are inherently fragmented as we switch between on- and off-line channels in researching our purchase decisions. This makes it almost impossible to track specific activations.
It’s no coincidence that this year Cannes Lions has introduced the first ever Creative Strategy Lion, aimed at encouraging the development of ways to measure the intangible. It is an essential step in ensuring that the very best creative ideas are not recognised for creativity’s sake alone, but for the impact they can deliver.
And so as we head to the Riviera, I feel both proud and confident in our offer; the way in which we can help brands to navigate choppy waters, the positive impact this can have on the well-being of consumers and, ultimately, to the health of the global economy.
As we like to say, creativity is the only way to survive!