Every year, more than 12,000 people travel from more than 90 countries to the South of France to showcase, judge, and celebrate the best advertising on the planet. Modern-day Mad Men from agencies, brands, and tech firms gather to celebrate the industry’s best work and listen to leaders talk about the ways creativity and technology are shaping the advertising landscape.
Cannes Lions hosts hundreds of seminars, workshops, panels, and forums. Again this year, a number of celebrities are also joining the discussion. These big names include Kanye West, Jared Leto, Ralph Fiennes, Courtney Love, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sir Patrick Stewart, Spike Jonze, Gisele Bündchen, and even the Hof, to name a few.
On the surface, it may seem odd that celebrities are speaking to the ad community about, well, advertising. My celebrity crushes tend to be more of the Sheryl Sandberg, Neil Patel, and Ben Silbermann variety, so I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical of the celebrity love fest at Cannes, where I also have been since Saturday.
As it turned out, these famous folks offered up more than a few good nuggets of wisdom. Here are at least five key lessons advertisers can glean from the fabulously famous:
Kanye West: ‘The Internet Is Ugly’
Kanye West spoke at the “Technology, Culture, and Consumer Adoption” panel with venture capitalist Ben Horowitz and Translation CEO Steve Stoute. They discussed how design is poised to shape and influence everything in advertising and technology.
Citing Steve Jobs as his biggest influence, West said that “Apple was so profound at making great products in great design language ... [Jobs] fought to make things easier for people, he made it his life’s mission to make things easier, more useful for others.”
But, in general, “The Internet, as a whole, is [expletive] ugly,” he added. West suggested that the assembled creative talent in Cannes do something about it. “Everyone spends all of their time looking at their screens or their phones,” he said. “And just as a simple task, we could clean that up.”
Indeed, the biggest brands in the world are making it their mission to “clean that up.” Google (GOOGL), Yahoo (YHOO), Pinterest, and Twitter (TWTR) are all laser-focused on design. Horowitz summed it up right when he said the best products will make the “complex seem simple,” and design will be a driving force in helping solve problems and make services more useful.
Sarah Jessica Parker: ‘Integrity Matters’
Authenticity matters for brands, advertising, and, yes, even celebrities. Sarah Jessica Parker spoke on a panel, entitled “Fashion, Sex, Celebrity & Character,” moderated by Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan. Over the years, lots of famous designers have approached the style icon to partner with her to bring fashionable shoes to the market. But the woman who made Manolos mainstream said no “a lot” to proposed deals. The reason? Parker wanted to make a shoe “with integrity.” She waited many years to find a collaborator who agreed with her vision—to make a shoe that maintained the integrity and “Carrie Bradshaw style” while also ensuring good durability worthy of consumers’ hard-earned dollars.
In contrast, at the panel featuring West, Translation’s Stoute cited BlackBerry’s decision to make Alicia Keys its creative director as an “authentic mess.” That partnership “didn’t have the right principals,” he said. “The creative has to be as authentic as the company.”
The reality is this: People can spot when celebrities (or brands, for that matter) are not authentic.
Jared Leto: ‘The Bridge Between Reality and A Dream Is Hard Work’
On Wednesday Jared Leto spoke on a media and entertainment panel moderated by Benjamin Palmer, co-founder of the Barbarian Group. Leto has done it all: Oscar winner. Movie star. Hit TV shows. Lead vocalist in rock band 30 Seconds to Mars. He was asked about his key to his success. Is it talent? Luck? Creativity?
His answer: “Lack of sleep,” he joked (though based on his IMDB profile, I think he might have been serious). Passion—and above all—hard work seem to steer Leto toward musical and movie stardom. He talked about how people succeed so much by actually failing, and that over time, hard work will lead to success.
No easy answers exist, but hard work and fearlessness have been key themes of many success stories shared at Cannes Lions. Indeed, earlier in the week, Spike Jonze was asked what advice he would give to folks in the room. His answer: “As creatives, it's a hard thing to push, to make something you're truly excited about, especially if you've written 100 different concepts, and they keep getting shot down. [Advertisers], be willing to get fired over a good idea. That's what the world needs ... it's about finding people who aren't scared."
Courtney Love: ‘One Smart Idea Can Beat The Hell Out Of Someone’s Super Bowl ad.’
At the Eighth Annual Grey Music Seminar, Tor Myhren, president and CCO of Grey New York, moderated a panel with Courtney Love. Love recounted how her band, Hole, was once the opening act for Nine Inch Nails, a band with a truly over-the-top show, even by rock standards (featuring trapeze artists, for example). But in reviews, Love said her picture was “always bigger than the picture of Nine Inch Nails.” Why? Fiercely competitive, Love knew that the headliner’s set was so elaborate that her band was locked into the same stage performance every night. So she consciously improvised her show, making Hole’s set different and better each night.
The results were rave reviews, more fans, and higher sales. Her message? Be fiercely competitive, spot your competitors’ weaknesses, and exploit them.
Erin McPherson: ‘Stop Making Ads. Starting Making Good Content’
Maker Studio chief content officer Erin McPherson isn’t technically a celebrity, but at a YouTube panel hosted Wednesday, she and Newscast chief content officer Mark Waugh brought out two celebrities you may never have heard of, but chances are your kids have: KaseemG and Camila Coelho.
KaseemG, born Kassem Gharaibeh, is one of the co-founders of Maker Studios, just acquired by Disney. He is a new kind of celebrity. He has 2.6 million YouTube subscribers and 422 million total YouTube video views, 322,000 Facebook likes, and 349,000 Twitter followers. To give you some perspective, Gharaibeh’s following is bigger than most cable or even network channels. As for Coelho, her two popular YouTube channels, Makeup By Camilla (one in English, one in Portuguese), have garnered 1.5 million subscribers
What does digital video provide? First, it offers an immediate democratization of celebrity, which can come from anywhere. The Maker Studios model is a great example of the new digital paradigm in which content is no longer dictated by an ad that interrupts the experience. Younger consumers, especially, won’t tolerate the intrusion. That makes native advertising a big part of the overall experience.
In her Tuesday presentation at Cannes, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer broke down native advertising in a way that everyone could understand: with pure, metric-driven results. “We know that after seeing a native ad, a user is 3.6 times more likely to conduct a brand search and 6 times more likely to run a related search versus a display ad,” she said.
It’s not just Millennials and CMOs who are pushing for more integrated, seamless advertising. With numbers such as the ones Mayer provided, CEOs and CFOs could soon make native advertising a mandate.
Celebrity or not, the key will be crafing that experience into something beautiful.
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About Anita Newton
Anita Newton (@AnitaBNewton) is the VP of corporate marketing at AdKnowledge. She led marketing at P&G, Sprint, and AMC Theatres, as well startups including Zave Networks (acquired by Google). Newton continues her entrepreneurial work by sharing insights on Kauffman Founders School and assisting startups such asd MightyGreenSolutions, Ligo and Trellie. She is based at Adknowledge's Kansas City headquarters. Read Adknowledge's blog here.