Cannes 2024: Silence Is Complicity So Brands Must Address Social Issues

(MENAFN- PRovoke) CANNES-“Brands are running naked in the middle of the marketing forest,” Luis Miguel Messianu, the founder, president and chief creative officer of minority-owned creative agency MEL told an audience during a panel at the Palais in Cannes examinging what happens“When Societal Progress Meets Resistance,” sponsored by Edelman and moderated by Axios publisher Nicholas Johnston.

In the past, Messianu said,“brands tended to stay away, shy away from any societal issues that were controversial. Now, that's not an option. It's no longer permissible. Because consumers expect more from brands, and they expect brands to be influential in terms of society. Silence is no longer an option. Silence is a signal. If you stay silent, it conveys complicity.”

Messianu was responding to data from the latest Trust Barometer research, presented by Richard Edelman, which emphasized the contradictory expectation that brands would address social issues and the risk that taking any political stand could alienate significant portions of a brand's audience.

“Politics is now just as important a purchase criterion as race, income, education, gender,” said Edelman.“Politics has become a fundamental part of the challenge for marketers. Ideology has become identity. People feel they're part of the team that's in favor of a certain policy.”

He said the Trust Barometer research showed that 80% of people believe brands are acting in a politically motivated way.“Their choice of social networks, their choice of influencers, all of this is seen as political.” In addition, 60% of people say they buy brands based on their politics and 70% still say they want brands to take a stand.

At a ratio of five to one, people expect brands to speak up on climate; by two to one, they want brands to speak up on race and diversity, despite the very noisy backlash against diversity and inclusion.

“There's also a substantial jump in economic nationalism. Eight in 10 people say, I will not buy brands from a specific market because I disagree with the government of that country. In other words, if I'm an American, I will not buy a Chinese brand, or vice versa.”

One way to minimize the risk, Edelman said, was to understand the way the landscape has changed over the past couple of years.

“The right has learned how to be very activist,” said Edelman.“The left has dominated the conversation for 30 years. Now the right is more activist than the left. The anti-woke is prevalent not just in the US and in the West. And we have to recognize that our marketing teams are not sufficiently intellectually diverse. Let's tell the truth to each other and appreciate that we can't just have geographic diversity, we need to have ideological diversity.

“There are people who do not like government. There are people who had a bad experience with misinformation and COVID. They feel that that was somehow a deliberate attempt by government to get them to take vaccines. And therefore marketing has to be brave again in having a big tent and being open to people who have a fundamentally different view of society than you might or your colleagues at the present.”

But as Johnston pointed out“the numbers are not even close,” with 70 to 80 percent of respondents still expecting brands to engage on important societal issues.

Marketing executive and author Bozoma Saint John, who has held senior roles at Netflix, Uber, Apple Music and more, said:“Politics is something not to run away from as marketers. Politics is something to wade into. It is a competitive advantage if you understand who your audience is.

“The challenge, of course, is that in an evolving society, evolving cultures, evolving mindsets, we find that it is no longer acceptable to hide, that people-our consumers, our customers, our audiences-want to know where you stand on any number of things. It's even beyond just politics, I would say that it goes into what your ideas are about family, you know? And health, and mental health.”

Messianu pointed one way forward:“I think we're in the business of optimism. To me, optimism and creativity are synonymous. And I think now more than ever, we need to assume that responsibility.“It's time to play offense. We cannot play defense. And as a creative person, it's exciting. The canvas just got bigger. It's time to embrace it.”

Saint John enthusiastically endorsed that idea.“I love Luis Miguel's point about optimism. Because I think sometimes we think having a position means doom and gloom. And that's not it. Our job is to find the joy and the excitement and the reason why someone wants to interact with the brand.

“And so even when you take a position on a particular political issue or a wellness stance we have to find the happiness in it and then tell people why that is a great reason to interact with the brand. And perhaps you're not going to hit everybody, but you will connect with your most loyal conumers, your core consumers.”



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