The StopPress Podcast #4: Simon Kemp, Contagious

However you say it, and whatever you think of it, Cannes has become the high water mark of global commercial creativity and pretty much every agency (and, increasingly, every tech company) worth its salt seeks validation through victory at this huge annual festival in the South of France. This year, there were more than 43,000 entries and more than 15,000 attendees, celebrating both the best ideas and the fact that the company is paying for their potentially debauched and very expensive trip. Contagious, which, according to its blurb, helps brands across the globe to achieve the top 1% of marketing creativity, was there, as it is every year, and Simon Kemp, the head of its consulting division Insider in the Asia Pacific region, looked at some of the themes linking the award-winning campaigns. He visited recently as a guest of FCB and he sat down with Ben Fahy, the publisher and editorial director of StopPress and NZ Marketing, to discuss the impact of technology, advertising as a fashion show, the declining impact of creativity, the idea of purpose washing, and plenty more.

Ben Fahy: Simon Kemp, a man with many titles. Thank you for joining me here at the FCB School House.

Simon Kemp: Thank you.

And thank you for your presentation which we just listened to called Cannes Deconstructed. Maybe to start with, can you run me through the thesis here. What are the 4 things that you found from delving into the data and talking with people who were there, with your colleagues, people who won? What did you find?

This was work that the entire Contagious team did, I hasten to add, so this is not my take on Cannes, this is Contagious’ overall distillation and deconstruction of all the stuff that we saw during the week. You saw, we took a good hour and a half to go through 4 of the key themes there, and there’s an awful lot more to this than just glib headlines. The important stuff that we pulled out this year is the role that technology plays within creativity, both as an inspiration of great ideas, but then also the facilitator of the execution then of those ideas.

It’s really interesting how it’s all evolving. For those people that managed to get to Cannes this year, they would have been aware of just the massive amount of involvement of technology companies. You go down the Croisette, which is the beach along the front of Cannes, and you’ve got the YouTube beach and the Facebook beach and the Twitter beach. It’s all technology company beaches, and they’re the ones that have made the biggest investments.

Image via @nikkayla 

The whole of the Palais, which is where all of the award ceremonies and speeches take place, was decked out, bright yellow SnapChat. Inside, everything was about Samsung and their VR experience. The whole of Cannes this year, if you didn’t get to go inside in any of the awards or the speeches, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a technology conference.

There’s a little bit of an existential crisis there with advertising people, who this event was based around for many years. It was traditionally advertising. The guys who are paying for everything now seem to be from technology.


Is there a danger though that the technology companies will take over? Is that what they’re trying to do, or will there always be a role for advertising? Are they just the implementers of the ideas that the advertising people are coming up with?

Taking over is an interesting question in itself. What would they be taking over? The Cannes festival … I’ve already given away what I was going to say by saying that. It’s moving away from an advertising award show to a festival of creativity and creativity in its broadest sense. I think, if you step away from being a marketer or an advertiser for a moment, and you look at everybody around the world and their day-to-day life, whether it’s in Papua New Guinea or in New York, technology plays an increasingly important part of everybody’s life.

Less so in Papua New Guinea.

Actually, well, it’s funny you should say that. One of my other hats, I work for We are Social and we do a report every few months on the latest developments of digital, social and mobile use around the world, and Papua New Guinea, even now, you’ve got half the population in Papua New Guinea now that has access to these kinds of technological devices. People there with mobile technologies. Half the population sounds quite impressive. If you compare it to a lot of the other places of the world, then it’s obviously very different.

They did terribly in Cannes compared to New Zealand though, didn’t they?

Yes. Now, when we come down to uses of technology, it’s very different to what the average person on the street is using technology for. Technology is now a very integral part … A very integral part, that’s very tautological isn’t it? It’s an integral part of people’s lives around the world, but most of us don’t think of it as technology. It’s really funny, when you speak to marketers, and they talk about online and offline and through the line and above the line … Can I profane on your podcast? Am I allowed to?

You may.

All these fucking lines everywhere, and it’s just these lines are invented by marketers, right? It’s just ridiculous because if you stop being a marketer, the instant you get home and you get out your phone, and you sit on the couch with the wife and you’re watching Netflix through an Apple TV, while you’re checking Facebook on your phone, your other devices. Your tablet over here, your kids are playing games on it. It’s just like, we don’t draw lines in our real lives, this is just real life. If I talk to my friend over a coffee versus if I talk to them over SnapChat, they’re still my friends and it’s still the same kinds of conversation. So digital is this nonsense thing, a concept that we’ve drawn up in our minds as marketers. I think this idea that, is technology going to take over Cannes? Does it even matter? It’s taking over an awful lot of what we do in our daily lives anyway.

I guess when you talk about that, you talk about Facebook and Google, and various other large entities trying to become creative and manage the creative side of things in working directly with clients. I think there are a lot of agencies that get scared by that.

I think at the moment, especially if you look at the likes of Facebook and Google, an awful lot of it is still with a media mindset. We’re talking about ‘opportunities to see’, that classic, “This is a media placement. I am putting something in front of somebody.” Those companies are focusing on the delivery of and not the creative that they deliver. A lot of the research that we’ve been seeing around the world recently, around things like artificial intelligence and machine learning and stuff, and saying that there are a huge number of jobs that exist, employ huge numbers of people around the world today, are going to be redundant just a few years from now.

If you look at finance, there’s a small moment of schadenfreude satisfaction from my perspective, that finance will be replaced by machines.

And lawyers. And unfortunately journalists to some degree, but I guess that’s the stages of denial around, “Will a robot take my job?” Most likely. You mentioned in your presentation one of the grand prix winners, which was The Next Rembrandt. Again, maybe it’s a confronting campaign for many because it really calls into question creativity as a human construct, and the ability of that computer to learn and to crunch data is far beyond what individuals probably can do.

Yeah, but let’s caveat that massively. It wasn’t that somebody turned on a computer and that computer then went through, “Shall I make a sandwich, or shall I go out for a walk? Do you know what? I’m going to paint a Rembrandt.” There was a very clear set of creative instructions of thinking and all that kind of stuff, that went into the world that allowed that to happen. A lot of incredibly sophisticated technology, but also an awful lot of very analog creative thinking that made it possible.

You’ve got to have both sides of that. The idea would never have come to life if it hadn’t had the technological backbone to it, but at the same time, if the idea hadn’t come from the analog thinking of creative minds, based on where we are technologically today, that would never have happened either.

We have a phrase in New Zealand, “It is people. It is people. It is people.” I think we could change it to, “It is robots. It is robots. It is robots.”

We’re the ones that built those robots for our own benefit. I think what’s interesting is that we’ve welcomed those algorithms with open arms, because they allow us to do things that either we are too lazy to do, don’t care about enough, or actually, are incapable of.

There’s an element there around short-term thinking. While the attention span doesn’t really exist, the idea of an attention span is that our attention is shorter now. We don’t focus as much on things, particularly in different mediums, Facebook for example, versus on TV. When I look at some of the things that won at Cannes, it feels a little bit like the same kind of thing. There’s a short-termism around what wins and, as we discussed, some of the long-term branding principles aren’t really rewarded at Cannes. Would you agree with that? Is there a stunt mentality with awards that is rewarded?

There’s definitely a body of work that is stunty in nature that engages juries and wins awards. It’s inevitable. Where there is something clever that we form an emotional bond and reaction within, it’s connected with us and therefore it is effective, regardless of whether it’s stunty. I think then, when you look at one of the other themes, we mentioned that we had 4 themes and we’ve touched on 1 of them so far, which was technology. 1 of the other themes that we had was purpose that pays. I think that when we really dug into the work that made the biggest difference, not just this year but over the last few years, it was a purpose that was genuinely built into the brand when it started its existence.

We were talking earlier about the idea of Unilever was built on doing well by doing good. It’s a business driver. If you do good stuff that benefits society, the good will that you manage to generate out of that, often has a financial component to it as well. It’s not just the big corporates that are able to do that. We were also looking at Tom Shoes, which is business that is very profitable that’s been built out of a desire to do good for society as well.

It’s very important to remember, what you were just saying just now, is that it’s all about people, people, people. Regardless of how much technology changes day-to-day, and the latest social media buzz terms and platforms and whatever else, if you look at fundamental human motivations, you go back to things like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Those haven’t changed in tens of thousands of years. It’s stuff that speaks to that, that will be consistently rewarded.

Interestingly, two of the campaigns you did talk about were New Zealand campaigns, which obviously gave us a warm glow of satisfaction. They were also stunts and linked to a purpose, and you could argue that they hijacked a purpose, in terms of the Burger King [McWhopper] idea, which is very subversive and I love it. The idea was to work with McDonald’s and they couldn’t lose. “If you don’t work with us, we’ll make fun of you, basically.” It was for World Peace Day, to sell burgers. There’s a parasitic aspect to that.  Brewtroleum, another wonderful idea that may start small and expand into other breweries. As you’ve mentioned, there are around 50 different Heineken breweries that are interested in that. But it was really short-term, and it was a novelty.

We assume because it was shown this year that it was it was short-term. We can’t say for sure. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they will continue to do it over time, but okay, I hear what you’re saying. It wasn’t like they’d launched the beer brand with the idea of making Brewtroleum when it first launched. Yeah, it was added on later, but …

Does it come down to the idea that you’ve discussed around the fashion show analogy, where this is at the cutting edge of communications and marketing, and this will inevitably flow down in the next season to some of the more pedestrian marketing.

The high-street fashions? I don’t know. I wasn’t present in the room when they were ideating Brewtroleum. I wish I had been because it would have been fascinating to know whether this was something they conceived as an idea that was going to win lots of awards, versus something that genuinely believed in and wanted to make a societal difference to. I would like to think it’s the second one.

You could take the cynical … I’m Scottish so cynicism and skepticism is a big part of just generally my mindset. You could take that mindset and say, “They’re just piggy-backing on purpose for the benefit of creating a bit of buzz and hopefully some short-term sales.” You could look at that and say, “They could also have spent exactly the same budget on something that didn’t have a societal benefit. It’s at that point where we need to be aware of the movement in marketing from using our marketing budgets to talk about ourselves, and doing that thing our mothers always advise us never to do, “If you go on a date, don’t go on a date and talk about yourself. Be sociable, be open to having conversations with other people and behave like a very social entity.”

I think what’s interesting is that marketing, it’s got to the stage of being a toddler in its growth stage. Brands are suddenly realising that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that they have to play nicely with other children. You know, we are just literally at our two year old state at the moment and we’ve just gone to kindergarten for the first stage, and we’re realizing that we’ve got to be a little bit more about everybody else and not just about what we want, and be having tantrums if it doesn’t go our way.

Does that not get to the point around the myth, you could call it that, the myth of engaging with consumers … and people generally not liking brands. In the interview I did with The Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, who does like to point out that some of the promises that have been made around marketing for the past 20 years, and in particular digital marketing, haven’t really come to fruition. Do you need to keep reminding people? You do need to keep talking about yourself if you’re a brand, don’t you?

No, you don’t. I think this is really important. If you talk about yourself, you’ve got some kind of issue, if all you do is talk about how amazing you are. It’s like if I come to you, I’ve never met you, and I say, “Hey, my name’s Simon. I’m really cool.” Chances are, you’ll react and go, “I’ll be the judge of that.” Whereas, there’s 20 people that you don’t know, or rather, 20 people that aren’t me come to you and say, “Simon’s really cool.” You might actually be persuaded to come and have a conversation and find out for yourself.

I think that the biggest danger that we’ve got is that we look at the vehicle, so the channel, the media, whatever you want to call it. We look at digital and assume that by being present in digital, somehow miracles will happen, which is clearly nonsense. We know that that isn’t the case. If you put a TV ad out, you’re not going to be suddenly the king of the world. You’ve got to put out a good TV ad for that to work.

I don’t quite understand why digital, social, somehow we think that just by being there and posting photos of kittens when we’re like some kind of waste disposal company, somehow magic will happen. It’s clearly nonsense. I don’t know where that misconception came from.

I think it probably came from counting different things as having the same value. For example, downloading a podcast or watching your favorite TV show and having the ads within that. I like to call it the resonance rating, which doesn’t really come into play in social and digital. It’s counted as the same thing, which gets to your point around the creative deficit. That we are getting forced into a crap trap that we feel the need to fill the pipes with whatever.

Correct. And I think an awful lot of the time, advertisers feel that their job is to produce content. There’s this beautiful contrast of producing outputs, the creative content that we deliver for our clients, versus producing outcomes which is the financial or organisational benefit that those outputs are designed to deliver. An awful lot of the time, as marketers, we get sidetracked. We think that the means become the end. The TV ad, once we’ve created it, we’ve done our job, rather than, did the TV ad deliver the results?

We’ve created a post on Facebook to satisfy the content calendar that we’ve somehow created as a madness for ourselves as marketers, that we have to post 3 times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, otherwise we will be punished. It’s nonsense, because all of those things are means to an end. That’s the bit that I think that’s where the crap trap comes from. The crap trap was Mark Pritchard from P&G. A beautiful presentation that he did on stage at Cannes, and he was saying that we’ve got to stop getting hung up on creating content and creative for its own sake and remember that marketing is a means to an end.

Ultimately, if you create something that is a little bit less sexy but that does the job, that’s the better choice than something that is beautifully artistic but actually deliver zero commercial or societal benefit for the brand.

I guess that goes to the point around Cannes that there are some beautiful and, who knows if they’re effective, things there. The creative effectiveness category is one of the smallest categories in Cannes. Again, the cynics would possibly suggest that maybe there isn’t much there to justify that.

It’s important to remind ourselves that Cannes is the festival of creativity, it’s not the festival of effectiveness. I know that’s probably a dangerous thing because a lot of people will roll their eyes as soon as I say that, but we do have festivals that are designed to celebrate the most effective work. You pointed to the Rory Sutherland analogy that a lot of the stuff that gets celebrated at Cannes is a bit like the stuff that gets celebrated at the catwalks of the big fashion shows, New York, London and Paris. It’s not necessarily the work that’s going to end up on the high-street shelves that we will wear out to work on a daily basis.

The other quote that he made about Cannes was that it was a liberal worthy wank-fest.

Which I love. “Liberal worthy wank-fest.” I think we should take a moment to … But, I think that’s what’s really interesting, is that when, as Contagious, we are looking at the work that makes the biggest impact and we take both of those angles at the same time. Is it inspirational creativity that will help us? What’s really interesting, if you’ve ever watched The Devil Wears Prada, it’s a beautiful analogy and one of those movies that I like a little bit more than I probably should. It talks about the fact that there is so much more to what happens on the catwalk and its subsequent impact on overall culture in society and not just on whether or not you’re going to buy this piece from Dolce & Gabanna.

I think there’s an awful lot of work that comes out of Cannes that does the same thing. I’m not trying to over-elevate its importance in the world. This is a bit of a first world problem thing here. But at the same time, you do get an awful lot of great inspiration that comes out from that … What was it? Liberal …

Liberal worthy wank-fest.

That’s the puppy. You get a lot of good stuff that does come out of that, and you can look at it as you will. At the same time, for the next 12 months, the people that were there will be inspired and they will feel that they have a greater understanding of what resonates. As a result, hopefully they will create more work that delivers impact both for the brands and the audiences that they’re trying to serve.

One interesting point that we talked about at the session was the Gunn Report, which said that [creative work]had gone down in terms of effectiveness. The most creative work declined from 12 times to now six times. It’s still six times [more effective than non-creative work]but the trend is going downwards. What do you put that down to?

I think if you read into the work that Peter Field and the IPA have been doing, and when he talks about the fact that there has been this decline. There’s a very clear influence if you like of short term thinking. It’s this real danger that we’re trying to hit results much, much more quickly. We’re looking for quick fixes and miracle diet pills instead of putting in the hard yards and making sure that the brand is built over time. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s becoming more difficult to prove that creative work always leads to dramatically improved results as well. A lot of that creative work will have been made with that short term mentality in mind.

Now I totally understand that it’s not the creative team’s fault, it’s not even the client’s fault a lot of the time. Shareholders are demanding quarter on quarter results. It’s unrealistic to expect that you can turn around to people that are paying the bills and say, “No, wait you need to hold on.” We should be doing more of that, telling people to wait and hold on, but the reality is that a lot of the time it’s beyond the control of the marketer to state that. That short term thinking is then leading to either stuff that is very short term in its thinking, or it’s just quick fix kind of we deliver results.

As you pointed out, creativity is something that creatives understandably like and strive for. But a lot of people don’t like it. There’s a reaction to creativity that’s a negative one. I think some of that research shows that if it’s a one-off it can be to the detriment of that brand. I guess you go back to some of the other research around [consistency]where your agency’s more likely to win awards if they’ve been with that client for more than 10 years.

If it’s a 10 year plus relationship then you’ve got double the chances of winning at Cannes. Now obviously there’s an awful lot to do, the whole set up that you just did there, it comes back to the same points again and again. It’s all about trust. Trust in a 10 year relationship is usually evident, otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted 10 years in the first place. If you look at it first from the consumer’s perspective, the important point is that the whole point of a brand in the first place is trust. It allows me to make a short cut that I know that if I buy brand X it’s going to deliver me the following things based on my perceptions and my previous experiences.

From that perspective, the whole point of a brand is to build that emotional, and functional, and whatever else connection in the minds of the people that it needs to influence. The danger with short term-ism is you end up with a brand that behaves schizophrenically. You have a short term activity that’s designed to deliver this result this week. Then a couple of months later you’ve got something else so we’re going to come up with a really creative solution for it. Both of them individually may be beautiful, creative executions. The danger is if they’re in completely contrasting styles or they demonstrate different brand values, even if they’re good, the danger is that there isn’t the consistency on which trust is built.

Joining up all the little things seems to be very difficult for brands at the moment.

It is. I think a lot of the challenges that companies will face is you’ve got this sort of short term-ism even amongst the career of marketers. The latest research I’ve seen, the average CMO stays in their job only 2 years or less. You cannot even begin to deliver change in less than 3 years from a brand perspective because in most categories the consumer, if we can call them that, just simply isn’t engaged enough to notice changes in the way that a brand behaves unless it is a dramatic and sudden change. Again because there’s so much change it erodes trust in the first place.

It’s really difficult to get that momentum going. We’ve got to start thinking about those longer term investments of equity in terms of the emotional bond that we form. I know that sounds a bit, it goes back to that wanky thing. 

You could argue there’s a cult of the new in advertising and creativity in general. That’s what it’s there for, but that can have detrimental effects. I think maybe you look at the potential contradiction in one of the things you talked about, around polygamy and how that is a good thing, and you need to work with as many people as possible. Obviously if you keep chopping and changing you lose some of the consistency that all brands need and want. So can you talk for a little bit about that idea of partnership and what, in this environment, agencies and clients need to do to get those campaigns through?

A lot of this is understanding the outcome that you want to deliver as a brand. Instead of thinking about the output that you want to deliver. An awful lot of times the brief that a client will give you is, “I want a TV commercial that does the following.” Or, “I want a Facebook post that does X Y and Z.” Instead of saying, “My brand’s challenge is to improve brand equity scores of X from here to there. What do you think we should do?”

That comes down again to that trust issue. This time the trust between clients and the agency partners that they engage with to help deliver things. Where you’ve got that element of trust, where you are a client who is willing to open up and say, “I’m facing the following challenges, what should I do?” You end up with a much richer understanding of how to get past your problems. In the best relationships an agency, or any kind of brand partner, should behave a lot more like a doctor.

When you’re sick you know that if you go in to the doctor and you say, “I’d like a paracetamol I’ve got a headache,” the doctor most of the time if they’re a good doctor is not going to say, “Okay there’s a paracetamol off you go.” They’re going to go, “Wait a minute. Let’s have a look and see what your symptoms are. We’ll diagnose what the cause of all of that is and I’ll be the one to decide what medicine you should have that’s most suited to you.”

The danger is that an awful lot of agencies, they are the paracetamol manufacturers. They make TVCs, they make Facebook posts. Then miraculously whatever it is that you come in with, well we can find a way to treat you with the medicine that we’ve got. I think an awful lot of the time the trust does need to be both ways. We need to have this opportunity to diagnose what the clients need as a solution, and then be able to make a recommendation that may not be what we sell but it in the client’s best interests.

There was another example, the House of Clicks, a Swedish real estate website that brought in architects and all these different partners who they wouldn’t normally work with. Is that something that you think agencies need to get a bit better at? At letting go of some of those ideas?

Well letting go or perhaps it’s the opposite of letting go. It’s holding on to them more tightly but believing that you can make things happen even if you don’t have the skills in house.

For those folks listening in the idea was that they analysed 200 million clicks across the Hemnet website which was originally there for buying and selling of houses. Hemnet wanted to move into the property development side of the business. By analysing the clicks they identified what Sweden’s perfect house would look like. How many bedrooms it should have, what colour it should be, all that kind of stuff. As a result of that they then got an architect and some other useful partners in to help them actually design it and translate it not just from a PR story of this is what the great house looks like, they actually turned it into architectural blueprints that allowed people to build that house for themselves as well.

That’s an idea that the average advertising campaign would never have looked at. Yet by embracing that diverse set of skills and perhaps letting go of the control within the agency, they produced something that was a lot more effective and a lot more inspiring than just, here’s another add that tells you about our website.

Looking at Cannes, it’s a wonderful example of human endeavor just to do something new. Contagious has kind of set up to focus on creative. Even in our role at StopPress  and NZ Marketing we like the new, shiny things that you’ve pointed out. Many people do. But is there a danger that you go too far into the stuff that is fun but doesn’t work? One of the things I’ve seen with some of our best brands, Air New Zealand probably being a good example, is that at the top end they have really creative approach to the social campaigns and obviously the in flight videos. They’ve got a great reputation for that and  gained a lot of likability, which is an important factor when people choose things. But they also have the backend running pretty smoothly as well around price and programmatic and all those day to day grunty things.

Contagious focuses on the top 1% of creativity. That’s the kind of thing that is the foundation of our business and all the things that we believe in. We recognize that an awful lot of marketing is also about the day to day activities. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them. A lot of the time businesses are going to need those price deals and specials and you name it. The more basic marketing for lack of a better term. Not meant in any way judgementally.

We’ve got to have a balanced diet as marketers. We cannot expect that one magical thing is going to transform our fortunes. I think I make these terrible analogies all the time, but this is probably one of the more obvious ones. Most marketing is like dating. Sure enough you’ve got to think of the really important, the first date, the date you propose, the wedding itself. Those are really important parts of a romantic relationship, but actually what glues most relationships together over the longer term is the sitting on the couch in your skags talking to each other. Going, “How was your day?” “Meh.” Having a moan.

That is an awful lot of actually what day to day marketing is about. It’s the flyer in your letterbox that tells you about the discounts on at the supermarket this week. That’s fine. A lot of the time that is what it takes to convert all the goodwill that you’ve built up through the clever marketing stuff. You just need an excuse to go, “Oh, yeah, yeah. I need to buy that today, and it’s on discount. Even better.”

I’m probably talking to the wrong man here. But do you feel as though overall Cannes is a good thing or is there a perverse incentive, as the economists might say, around striving for awards above everything else?

I love the way that you assume that I’m all for Cannes. I’m in the sort of Rory Sutherland schizophrenia moment of I’ll call it a wank fest on one side and then I’ll see it as a massive inspiration five seconds later. I think we’ve got to go along with these big occasions. We’ve got to be critical about everything we see. Even the stuff that’s amazing out there. We can still look at it and say what would I do differently, and stuff like that. We’ve got to have that discipline to challenge everything and say, is this real? Is the emperor naked?

You know I got a huge among out of being at Cannes this year. I was very lucky to be there for the full week and see all the stuff that was going on. I confess that I saw more stuff that I scorned than the stuff that I got excited about. That’s probably a subjective thing. At the same time I saw things that totally changed the way that I look at a lot of marketing. There was some really beautiful stuff by the likes of REI. I’d not seen that in great depth before and I found it really inspiring. That was the Opt Outside, where the retailer closes on Black Friday to live its promise of, get folks outdoors.

That’s another example of subversion. Creating attention by looking at what everyone else is doing, and not doing that.

That’s one of the greatest ways of driving salience. If you do the opposite of the expected then you’re obviously going to stand out. But I think what was very important about that is they didn’t do it just for the sake of being contrary. They very clearly built on what the brand stands for and the promise that it makes beyond just the products that it sells. I think it’s nice to see all of these things in context. A lot of the time it’s the contrast of the great work against the slightly mediocre shouty, look at me, not really genuine work that helps you really understand the difference between work that makes a difference and work that’s just different for its own sake.

That’s a good example of a brand becoming part of the conversation and culture at that time [something FCB’s David Thomason discussed in a previous podcast]. I think the point that you made about OMO or Persil as it’s known here, dirt is good, which is a platform they’ve been running based on the fact that children spend less time outdoors than maximum security prisoners.

Which is terrifying, right?

It is terrifying. It is becoming part of that conversation and there’s maybe some deep down issues that people experience about that and wanted to fix it. From the things that you’ve found that win at Cannes, is it important for brands to insert themselves into the discussion?

It’s a very sensitive topic. It’s one of the things that we covered in the session today. There’s a lot of work that tries to address a purpose. A societal issue. Then there’s a lot of work that addresses a societal issue because it’s something the brand genuinely believes in and has something to contribute. The first of those is very dangerous. If you’re just doing something that’s important but it has very little relevance to your world, it looks like it’s stuck on. People’s bullshit sensors spot that very quickly.

There’s plenty of stuck on.

A huge amount and I think even the jury of presidents at Cannes this year were complaining that there are still far too many bits of work being awarded where they’re ‘purpose washing’, as the gentleman in the audience called it this evening. I think there’s a lot of challenge to that kind of marketing at the moment. It is complete bullshit. It gives the industry a bad name. It makes us look completely disingenuous. It gives all of us a bad name. We need to get past it because once again it’s doing more damage than good.

What did Mark Pritchard say? “Noble,” and …

“A noble and beautiful profession, is advertising.” He couldn’t have expressed it better. At the same time there’s an awful lot of snake oil salesman, and charlatans, and bullshitters in there as well. We’ve got to make sure we separate ourselves out from that. You’re right. The OMO example is a really valid one. There’s a reason they’ve been doing it for more than a decade now. It’s that they genuinely do believe, and they invest a huge amount of resource into it that technically they don’t need to.

They’ve got this belief that children need to get outside. They need to experience the world for themselves and dig around in the dirt. Sure enough they’re going to get dirty clothes and therefore there’s a role for the product in there, but there is a real developmental benefit for children to get outside, get fresh air, interact with each other, see the world as it is and not learn about it just on the internet.

Maybe to finish up Simon, it’s possibly like choosing a favorite child, but do you have anything in particular from your time at Cannes that stood out as an exemplar?

I think the one that really spoke to me, and the first time I read it I was blown away, it’s the Swedish number. Sweden actually set up a phone number where you could call in as somebody from anywhere around the world and the number would connect you to a random Swede and you could ask anything you liked about Sweden. It just really spoke to me because there was a sociable element to it. It was authentic, it was transparent, it was interactive. It was all these things that we talk about as marketers as being what we should be aiming for.

It was just super well executed but you saw 128,000 people making a call to that number. That’s 128,000 qualified leads of people who were interested enough in Sweden to call up and go, “Tell me what it’s like as somebody who lives there.” I think if I’d had that brief on my table I probably would have taken it even further. You can see how it would have been, I’ll connect you on WeChat, or I’ll connect you on WhatsApp or any of these other platforms. You can have a great chat with people through social media as well as through a telephone number.

How quaint.

It’s a very well thought through piece of activity that thinks about the audience benefit and how the brand can deliver that. Rather than ‘here’s our brand come and stay in Sweden’. Our approach to it isn’t just, amazing Sweden or whatever we want to call our country this week. It’s just saying, ‘why don’t you speak to a Swede and find out what it’s really like’. That would be my top choice. Obviously there was lots of other great work. That one really resonated with me.

Excellent. Simon, thank you very much for your time.

  • If you want to see more about their findings (and figure out how to win more metal), they appear in the latest edition of Contagious Magazine. 
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