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Cannes Lions: How to build brands that last

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In a keynote speech at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, our Chief Digital and Commercial Officer, Conny Braams, and Dove’s Chief Marketing Officer, Alessandro Manfredi, shared our approach to building long-lasting brands in today’s marketing landscapes.

Conny Braams and Alessandro Manfredi sitting on a sunny terrace in sunglasses each with legs crossed reading Variety magazine

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity gathers the global marketing community for five days to celebrate creative work from around the world. It is an opportunity for the creative community to reflect on the forces shaping and changing the industry.

Here are the highlights from the keynote speech, 'The Real Beauty of Long-Lasting Brands', given by Conny Braams, our Chief Digital and Commercial Officer, and Alessandro Manfredi, Dove’s Chief Marketing Officer, at this year’s festival.

The opportunities of change

Conny Braams said: “We’ve been blessed with a couple of decades of relatively stable global systems. We’re now moving to a world where turbulence is likely to be the norm for the next few years. As marketers, we need to zoom in on how these changes affect the way people live, shop and play. Here’s what I think is really standing out.”

Consumers are changing

“Across every generation, people are moving away from traditional life blueprints and markers of success.

Single households are on the rise. Fewer people are having children. We’re seeing a huge increase in people aged 60+.

However, we don’t see this reflected in ads. Only 6% of global ads feature characters over the age of 65.

This is a huge opportunity. We know unstereotypical and progressive ads are more distinctive and deliver better brand power.”

Shopping is changing

“42% of Gen Z prefer to shop pre-loved. Are we considering the thrift economy, refill, reuse, and are we shifting fast enough?”

Entertainment is changing

“The gaming industry is now worth more than the entire global movie and music industries combined. Younger generations are socialising and forming communities via gaming. And it’s not just the younger generation… the average age of a gamer is 35.

Entertainment is becoming shopping. Services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime are becoming media channels – and soon to be commerce channels where people will be able to ‘shop what you watch’.”

Technology is changing

“We’re only just scratching the surface of the next big transformation thanks to generative AI. We’re on the cliff edge of a discontinuity that will be bigger and faster than ever. So fast that our brains will find it hard to keep up.”

Conny Braams in an orange dress speaking on stage

Becoming unmissable

Alessandro Manfredi said: “I truly believe that the biggest challenge of the decade for marketers is not AI, not the metaverse, not the latest cultural or social media trend… but it is fighting the constant dramatic erosion of differentiation of brands. Going back to what Conny said, it is very tough out there for marketers; there are a lot of fast and unpredictable changes to navigate.

So what do you do about it?

To be successful in such a challenging context, brands must learn to make themselves consistently unmissable.

This is how brands build staying power.

  • They are ruthlessly simple in what they stand for because they have a ‘centre of gravity’ that can be expressed in very few words. For example, Dove’s is ‘Real Beauty’ and Magnum’s is ‘Pleasure’.
  • They build powerful emotional connections with consumers thanks to a belief system that goes well beyond the mere functional and emotional benefit of the brand and that helps them ‘make sense’ of the world. At Unilever, we call this purpose. Dove’s purpose has become its compass to help the brand navigate change and build connections with people.
  • They show up consistently over the years in the way they are executed so they can build long-standing memory structures with people. Consistency depends on clarity, creating boundaries for the brand and making choices on where it can stand out."
Alessandro Manfredi in jeans and a white shirt speaking on stage

Embracing the future of marketing

Conny Braams said: “We have overwhelming evidence that brands which consumers see as having a positive impact on society or the planet are growing much faster. These brands now represent 60% of our turnover at Unilever, significantly outgrowing the other 40%.

Hellmann’s and food waste. Lifebuoy and handwashing. Rexona and movement. Hourglass and cruelty-free. These are examples of brands that know exactly what they stand for and have been built over time, embracing new opportunities at every turn.

The majority of growth we drive at Unilever comes from the long-lasting effects of brand building. It builds base sales and provides resilience. But in a world with more channels available that are instantly more measurable, it’s human nature to be inclined to invest in the short term. As media and commerce converge, we have the opportunity to do both.

So, what you can’t do is invest in performance marketing at the expense of brand building. But what you can do is build brands and convert to sales at the same time.

As we embrace the future of marketing, we need to apply creativity across the end-to-end consumer journey. Filling the gap between brand building and performance marketing to become first to mind, first to find and first to cart.”

Conny Braams in oragnge dress with arms extended speaking on stage

Dove: a masterclass in staying power

In 2004, after discovering that only 2% of women found themselves beautiful, Dove found its purpose: “to change beauty from a source of anxiety to a source of happiness for every woman”.

Here, Alessandro reflects on five initiatives that have guided the brand through almost two decades of change and turbulence.

  1. Campaign for Real Beauty: The Dove Self-Esteem Project

    A line of six women in white underwear laughing and smiling at the camera

    “The Dove brand has its centre of gravity in real beauty and, around it, we have built a whole belief system – our purpose. Nineteen years ago, we launched the Campaign for Real Beauty to widen the definition of beauty.

    At the same time, we built boundaries for the brand around our communication and purpose that helped us to stay authentic and also build consistency for the brand, such as deciding to leverage only real women, not models or celebrities, for all our campaigns, or not retouching any advertising.

    As we deepened our knowledge, we realised that the issue was much more serious for young girls. In our research, we discovered that 8 out of 10 girls globally opt out of key life activities such as sharing their opinion, joining a club or even leaving the house.

    That is why we created the Dove Self-Esteem Project: to help young girls grow with stronger body confidence. Through this programme, we developed tools and ran initiatives developed with academics, clinically proven to have a lasting impact on girls’ body confidence. So far, 95 million young people have been through the programme, and we’ve become the largest provider of body confidence education in the world.”

  2. Reverse Selfie

    “Over the years, it became clear that one of the greatest threats to body confidence came from social media. For example, we discovered that by the age of 13, 80% of young girls have already retouched their own image. So, we decided to raise awareness of this issue and provided tools for parents with the Reverse Selfie campaign.”

  3. Supporting the Crown Movement

    “Sometimes, to change the system, you have to go as far as to advocate for changing laws.

    In the US, Black adults and children are subject to unfair treatment and discrimination for simply wearing their natural hair texture and protective hairstyles (such as braids, locs, twists and knots).

    So, Dove co-founded the CROWN Coalition in 2019 to help advocate for the passing of the CROWN Act to make race-based hair discrimination illegal in workplaces and K-12 public and charter schools nationwide. Today, the CROWN Act and legislation inspired by the CROWN Act has passed as law in 23 states.”

  4. Courage is beautiful

    “In March 2020, we were about to launch a new global campaign on body confidence, then Covid struck.

    A good part of the world was confined at home, shocked and terrified. Clearly, this was the moment when even a worthy cause, like body confidence, lost relevance.

    So, we put everything in a drawer and, in less than six days, we developed a campaign; yes, about beauty, but about what real beauty was in that moment.”

  5. Real virtual beauty

    “Of course, the metaverse requires comprehensive reflection for every brand on how to leverage the opportunity. Again, we referred to our purpose as our compass.

    1.3 billion women and girls in the world play games, making up half of the global games’ community, with 60% playing video games before the age of 13.

    But 60% of girl gamers feel misrepresented and recognise a lack of diversity as a key issue in video games.”

Making social a more positive place: Spotlight on two Dove award-winning campaigns

While certain aspects of social media can help foster creativity and connection, data has shown toxic beauty content online is harming young people’s mental health. Here are two award-winning Dove campaigns that aim to take action towards making social media a more positive place.

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