Show 47 – Language of Comms, China, Music & Brands, Trends
Show 47 was the second of four shows recorded at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
In part one of this Cannes Lions show, Russell Goldsmith spoke with Harjot Singh, Chief Strategy Officer, McCann Worldgroup EMEA, about the language used in the communications industry, which he has some strong views about and something he was hoping to see a culture shift from within the industry.
Harjot said that whilst we are living in a time of new realities, old and outdated language are still being used, and so whilst everyone in the industry wants people to like them and says things like “we want to engage, co-create, participate and collaborate”, he said that they call people a target, as in target audience. To Harjot, a target is something you shoot at or throw things at, with the aim of destroying it- it’s about precision and how hard you hit it. There is no engagement – it’s one way – and he certainly doesn’t want to be a target!
When you then look at the second part of that target audience term, Harjot says that an audience watches a movie in a dark auditorium – they allow a movie to go over them, that it is a passive thing and that you are not joining in or getting involved. He added that audiences are passive by definition, but we don’t want them to be passive with the messages and conversations we are trying to create.
Harjot is therefore trying to change the language his agency uses as he believes a different discourse is the beginning of a different outcome. Therefore, at McCann, they do not call people targets, they simply call them people, and instead of message they use engaging conversations and experiences. They also refer to an audience or group of people or communities. He added that they are also changing the language within their creative briefs and that, in fact, even the word brief has finite possibilities, which is why he refers to it as a springboard instead, as this creates more possibilities.
For Harjot, this approach is simply common sense!
Whilst he continued on his soapbox, Harjot said that this was his ninth visit to Cannes Lions and that he had lost count of the amount of times he had heard the word authentic – it’s another one he feels needs to be reinterpreted as he believes everyone talks about it in a fixed state and that some companies use it as an excuse for not changing. Change can be authentic – for example a chameleon changes colour all the time because that is authentic to the chameleon. Therefore change can be authentic and in linking that to marketing, he said that brands sometimes make excuses for not doing things a certain way because they say it’s their authentic self, but if you are consistently inconsistent, that can be pretty authentic as well! He therefore said that we need to engage with this authentic conversation in a new context – one that’s about improvising, flexing and greater agility.
Part two starts at 10:09
Chatting with H+K Strategies’ Richard Millar (middle) and Simon Shaw (right)
In part two, Russell interviewed H+K Strategies’ Simon Shaw and Richard Millar who were presenting on the subject of ‘China’s Age of Ambition’ at the Festival the following day, alongside Glory Zhang, Consumer Business Group CMO of their client Huawei – a brand that has become the third biggest smartphone manufacturer in the World within five years.
Last year at Canne Lions, Simon told the csuitepodcast that he was there with his clients from China who were ‘looking to move from a culture of making products to one of explaining why they are making those products’. He said that this journey is continuing and that their Chinese clients are focussing more on it now, i.e., the balance of telling the performance of the product but also their purpose – their reason to exist. He added that you have to balance those two elements depending on the market you are entering, so if it is a developing market, it might be more price sensitive and so perhaps you might talk more around the performance of the product or the value proposition, but as their clients move into more mature markets, they may need to explain to a slightly different consumer why they should choose their brand as well as their product.
Simon said that Chinese clients have speed, ambition and agility – they have a real want to learn and move quickly. He believes the culture is now totally client-centric and not just thinking they are, which is where their journey began.
Richard added that with all the brands they speak to in China, Cannes Lions is on all of their agendas as an event to be at – they aspire to be creatively excellent and if their work is recognised at Cannes Lions, then it is one measure of their success.
Whilst China may have had a reputation for poor quality products in the past, Simon said that the truth is very different now, particularly if you look at younger consumers who have no pre-conceptions about the Chinese markets. So whilst perhaps the slightly older generation may associate China with some of those stories from the past, the younger consumer look at China as an innovation powerhouse and a place to get amazing product. Simon believes China is a fast follower, learning from the West, innovating and doing things quicker, better and at a better price. Richard added that he has four children from 22 years of age down to nine and for them, China is cool and brands such as Huawei are on a parity with Apple and Samsung.
H+K has been working with Huawei for around three years and according to Simon, they share the same characteristics as other Chinese clients the agency works with across the Energy, Retail, Property and Entertainment sectors, i.e., a restlessness, wanting everything done at great speed and constant expectations for the best.
Simon and Richard’s message therefore to people in the West is to forget everything you thought you knew about China and to get wise to their brands, as we will be living with them for the next 100 years.
Whilst H+K Strategies have been writing a lot about working with the Chinese market, Simon and Richard believe it is best to experience it, which is why they have launched a the Shanghai Addition – pop up extension of their London office where they can rotate people through to see what it is like to work with Chinese companies. Simon explained that it is about two cultures learning and working together, which you need a right mind-set for.
Part three starts at 19:07
In Part three, Russell chatted with Grammy-nominated hip-hop producer, Young Guru, and talent manager and entrepreneur Jerald Cooper. Guru is best known as Jay-Z’s personal music engineer and has been described by The Wall Street Journal as ‘the most influential man in hip hop that you have never heard of’. He had just taken part in a panel discussion organised by FleishmanHillard titled ‘Talking Tunes and Human Truths’ that took place in the ICCO House of PR, where they discussed how music effects people and how to become and remain authentic to what you are doing – he feels that authenticity is a huge part of advertising, PR and marketing. He also said they talked about the challenges of choices you have to make when dealing with PR in terms of issues you may want to represent and how you can best do that, as well as how agencies can work with the creatives [music artists] they want to use. They therefore continued that discussion in this podcast interview, but also chatted about their own project called ‘Era of the Engineer’.
In terms of how brands are working with musicians, Guru explained that it’s very different now – it’s no longer about assuming if you align your product with an artist, then the artist’s fan base will move to that product. Instead, the fan base needs a reason to like the product and so the product has to fit into the life of who those people are. It’s therefore not about choosing the biggest artist to fit with your brand but the most effective.
Guru said that now is an important time for artists to be working with brands, particularly as the music industry has changed, with album sales that artists used to rely on not as large anymore due to the internet. However, he said the artist has taken the album out of the centre of the circle and replaced it with themselves as the brand. He therefore believes connecting with companies that can represent or support your brand as an artist is great, but those companies still have to coincide with the ethos of what you are as an artist.
When discussing how Young Guru works with brands himself, Jerald added that one of the key aspects in choosing who you work with is ‘purpose’, both on the brand and artist side. In fact, he sees it as a trend where he feels that in the next three years, there won’t be a marketing campaign without purpose, which lead nicely onto the subject of Guru and Jerald’s own pet project, ‘Era of the Engineer’.
As a young black male growing up, Guru said that he was into engineering, wanting to know how things were built and constructed, but it was hard to get his friends involved as it was something that was seen as uncool and nerdy. His plan, therefore, with ‘Era of the Engineer’ is to make tall types of engineering cool – not just musical engineering and the draw of working with the highest paid artists, but the understanding that everything has been engineered.
He gave examples, that, as he described, may not be seen as sexy, but running the sound at the McDonalds Drive Through has to be engineered and it’s a job that pays! Therefore, whilst he can draw kids in through his involvement in the music industry, he can then show them all types of engineering. He said that at the moment, coding is the biggest thing and that everyone wants to invent an app, sell it and be the next Mark Zuckerberg, yet there are countries that need infrastructure. and that we will need people who know how to build roads and maintain them. He feels that whilst coding is important and is the language of the future, we need all other types of engineers – we live in a physical world, so we need people who know how to build the physical things, be that roads or the spaceship that’s going to go to Mars. He added that it is all very nice to make the next app that is sold for millions of dollars but it is rare to achieve that, just like only 10% of people make it as professional sports people.
Jerald added that it will be hard for anyone to try and identify something that has not been engineered and so entering into engineering via sports or any part of culture makes it cool.
Guru and Jerald therefore want to change the culture – they want it to be important to know the facts, to get to the stage where your friends will think you are weird if you don’t know this information. For example, even if you are into fashion, the machines that make the clothes have been engineered, and if you think into the future, you’ll need engineering to make the 3D printers that can make shirts or sneakers.
Part four starts at 31:15
In the final part of the show, Russell spoke with Carla Buzasi, Global Chief Content Officer at trend forecasters WGSN, who had earlier been presenting at the Cannes Lions festival about how to predict and dissect the anatomy of a trend.
Carla explained that at WGSN she has a huge team of journalists, data analysts, consultants and product experts who go out and look for tiny bubble-up trends. These are then all brought together twice a year at the company’s Trends Days, where they then look for common themes, which they then use to predict two years ahead, what will become the big macro trends on how we will live our lives. Carla said that there is a difference between fads, trends and movements. She believes that, whilst some trends do die off, most of them are constantly evolving.
In the past year alone, members of the team at WSGN have been to 95 different countries, visited 89 music festivals and 2755 catwalk shows, looking for trends where people are, or where people are doing interesting things. Some of those places that her team have visited include Coachella, the World Retail Congress and Primavera Sound, plus she had colleagues at Cannes Lions in a reporting capacity too. Alongside these events, Carla said they also monitor hundreds of blogs and social media influencers and that to be a trend forecaster, you must have a very broad and open mind.
Carla said that businesses use the information that WGSN provide according to their customer base, so if a business is targeting someone who is cool and edgy to buy their clothes or stay in their hotel, then they need the early trend predictions. However, mass market retailers or bigger supermarkets tend to want more established trends. For example quinoa is now on all supermarket shelves, but it would not have worked five years ago – the trend needed to be established. So one very new trend they are saying to look out for is Rosemary water.
One trend that is very important to Carla is the improvement in diversity in the industry and she said that we’re at the stage where the influence is there because there are some amazing women at the top of the industry who are very visible, on stage in Cannes Lions, are reported in the newspapers and write books. However, she doesn’t feel that we are at the stage of mass adaption and so whilst people love to talk about women in leadership roles, she doesn’t think enough companies are making that happen. She therefore thinks that the industry is on an upward curve, and whilst she remains very optimistic, she said that there is still more work to be done.
Another trend that Carla spoke about was wearable technology and she said that in the future, your fitbit will be built within the fabric of your clothes and you won’t even have to input what you have eaten as the calories can be counted through your sweat! There will also be wearable technology that will be able to detect STDs. Carla said that the CEO of fitbit would like the wearable tech to become like wearing a seatbelt in that you won’t leave home without being able to collect data on all aspects of your life – we are obsessed with data, so Carla sees a bright future for wearable technology.
As for the trends that Carla noticed at the Festival, she said she was going to say Goat Yoga [seriously!] but she hadn’t seen so much of that in Cannes Lions. Instead, she said that in her presentation, she had used the catchphrase ‘bored is the new black’ and so people need to embrace boredom more than they do at the moment – we never pause, we are always looking at our phones. However, she said that it’s really important to give your brain time to recharge and reboot, adding that people often say they have their best ideas in the shower, which is probably because there is nothing there to distract them.
The Cannes Lions episodes of the csuitepodcast were sponsored by Capstone Hill Search.
Thanks to ICCO for allowing us to carry out the interviews in their House of PR.
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