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Cannes Lions Live: Lessons from winning campaigns that helped brands sail through economic turmoil from the ’80s to 2000s

On the last day of Cannes Lions Live, Susie Walker, Head of Awards at Cannes Lions, discussed trends and tactics that will work during and after the crisis. Walker trawled thousands of Cannes Lions winners to identify how creative communications responded to periods of economic turmoil in the past

Susie Walker

Ever since the virus struck, brands have been forced to pivot at breakneck speed to meet changing consumer demand. Communications, supply chains, and core product lines have been rethought. On the last day of Cannes Lions Live, Susie Walker, Head of Awards at Cannes Lions, discussed the trends and tactics that will work during and after the crisis. She talked about the creative trends that are set to accelerate. Will the aftermath of this recovery see the creation of new, iconic work?

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The current pandemic has caused a more emotional recession than any of us can recall. “Brands have been forced to make tough and nuanced decisions in relation to respect and dignity. We are facing real operational and, in some cases, existential challenges. Because of this, the creative output of the industry will change. Media platforms will evolve, and the new ones will emerge. Businesses will have to adapt to new payment and eCommerce pathways,” said Walker. 

Don’t swap long-term brand building with short-term activations

Brands need to react quickly but swapping long-term brand initiatives for short-term promotional activities means brands will suffer more and not less in the long term. “According to reports, a shift to short-term, activation-focused work rather than long-term brand strengthening work for growth is the cause of the collapse of effectiveness,” said Walker.

Make emotional connections with consumers

Brands need to understand, specifically now that emotional connections will make long-term associations with the consumers. Walker said that now is the time to make memories. “Brand building is the most powerful tool to remain on top of the mind even when the consumers these days are buying less.”

Invest more in brand health

The next point that Walker made was that it is the most critical time for the brand owners to invest in brand health more than ever. According to WARC’s marketing toolkit 2020, 70% of the marketers agree that they have invested in performance marketing.

A recent study found that 55% of the advertisers have cut marketing spends to protect short-term profitability. Walker said, “During the 1981 recession, the brands that increased ad spends had 256% higher sales than the ones who didn’t by 1985.”

Giving another fact to support that brands should definitely advertise during the crisis, Walker stated the Millward Brown report of 2008. According to the report, 60% of the brands went ‘dark’, brand use decreased by 24% and brand image decreased by 28%.

Walker went on to quote the recent Kantar report, which said the brands that will not advertise would see a 39% reduction in brand awareness and delayed recovery after coronavirus.

The crisis is the time to connect with consumers

Crisis time gives an opportunity to connect with consumers who are not currently in the market. Walker commented, “Consumers are faithful, and this is the time for the brands to create saliency in a way that will last long. Brands focusing on activations won’t be able to focus on the customers. There are ways to continue engagement with consumers beyond traditional ads. Therefore, one must continue engagement, even if not spending much.”

Walker mentioned a report by Market Science, which conducted an economic analysis of the last five recessions. It found out that the companies that invested in the customer experiences won during and after the downturn. These companies advised prioritising satisfaction. Owned assets, including the packaging, can be employed.

Change messaging during the crisis

Another point that brands need to consider in the times of crisis is that the messaging needs to be changed. According to IAB survey, 63% of the marketers had already changed the messaging by March 2020. 42% marketers increased mission and caused-based marketing. 45% decreased performance-based marketing.

Walker has trawled thousands of Cannes Lions winners in The Work to identify how creative communications responded to periods of economic turmoil, from the ’80s to the 2000s.

Walker and her team analysed and compared the Cannes Lions winner in the Titanium, Direct and Cyber winning works of 2007 and 2010, which makes 355 campaigns altogether. They found out three key changes in the work produced before and after the global financial crash.

  • The use of humour and fun

In 2007, it was evident in around 55% of the work, and that shifted to 72% of the winners in 2010.

  • Community spirit

In 2007, it was evident in around 18% of the work, but in 2010 it shifted to 52%.

  • Brand-led work

It was evident in over 24% of the work and changed to 44% in 2010.

Walker emphasised, “In times of crisis, the bravest brands create iconic and game-changing campaigns with new messaging, new techniques and new formats. Two major trends are noticed in the past decade: Firstly, the explosion of consumer participation and the birth of brand purpose was clearly visible in the Titanium winners as clearly as 2007.”

Walker then made five predictions of what might happen next.

1. eCommerce 3.0

Innovation in eCommerce will only accelerate after the pandemic ends.

2. Shape-shifting platforms

The pandemic will create new media opportunities. As Walker said, “New game, new rules”. Gaming will become an important medium for brands to communicate.

3. Virtual life is finally the real life

Earlier people didn’t believe that VP would become the future. Pandemic has caused it to become one. In the future, experiential marketing will be subject to social distancing. Creating digital experiences like virtual exhibitions, concerts and online retail experiences will become even more important.

4. Accessibility first

Brands need to create products and designs that engage with everyone. The next step for the brands would be service and product designs to be taking inclusivity by default. The brands need to make sure that even while being online, they don’t leave out consumers who still don’t have access to online.

5. Back to brand

Brand-building activities will help brands sail through the recession.

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