Cannes Lions 2016 sum-up: You take the risk, I'll take the blame

In the haze of post-2016 Cannes reflection, J Walter Thompson's director of digital for Asia-Pacific, Josie Brown, sums up the key learnings every CMO should be taking away from the 2016 event.

Some of the most enjoyable and insightful slots on the Cannes agenda came from the daily sessions hosted and moderated by The Economist on the Cannes Lions Beach each morning. A panel discussion format in an intimate, outdoor setting with leading CMOs provided a more conversational perspective to some of the topics emerging during the week.

Alison Lewis, chief marketing officer at Johnson & Johnson, spoke on this panel about a discussion with her chief technology officer where he encouraged her to take risks with her marketing communications and not lose focus by putting the technology in front of the ideas she wanted to pursue.

“You take the risk, I’ll take the blame” reveals a strong partnership and dialogue between marketing and IT which can enable programs that focus on engaging consumers - the “sole objective” for marketers, according to Lewis.

In a week where technology and data featured in conversations about creativity and marketing effectiveness, it is clearer than ever how brands can get more intimate with consumers. But great experiences delivered through technology need also to give consumers confidence that they are dealing responsibly with privacy and personal data. CMOs need a willing technology partner to support and enable this element of the marketing mix.

CMOs on this panel agreed that in many large organisations, employees are scared to fail, so finding ways to drive a culture of trial and taking risks is a key challenge.

Josie Brown
Josie Brown


Social media is always part of any risk management plans for marketers, but Jorn Socquet, vice-president marketing at Anheuser-Busch, told a separate panel earlier in the week that whilst social media is quick to blame or expose, it is equally fast to forgive those brands or companies who communicate with authenticity and at speed. With social channels remaining a fundamental way for brands to connect with communities, getting comfortable with trying different ways to open up to audiences is an ongoing challenge for CMOs.

One of the most progressive and committed organisations to harness user generated content for marketing is Airbnb. CMO, Jonathan Mildenhall, explained his vision for Airbnb to be a “Community driven superbrand” and wants to harness the platforms hosts and guests as a global pool of content creators for the brand – with marketers, agencies and technology focused on the creative wrapping and curation of that content.

Reliance on user generated content often comes with risks for brands, but the approach championed by Airbnb was inspiring as a way to harness authentic stories and activate a community of advocates for the brand.

The Cannes Lions festival celebrates work, teams and ultimately marketers who take risks to deliver impact for their brands. Having a partner to plan with their expertise, share the blame for any unexpected outcomes and learn quickly is essential.

It’s a commitment I’m making to my clients in 2016 to take more risks and getting some amazing outcomes in the way we connect brands and consumers.

- Josie Brown is the APAC director of digital for J Walter Thompson.

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