Over the last decade, we’ve been benchmarking the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to decode the industry’s evolution and identify a guiding theme for each year.

We think it’s an important exercise, because taking time to analyze and think critically about the festival’s best work can help brands gain important insights as they head into 2020 planning.

Our theme for this year: defiance as a mindset.

What do we mean by this? Simply put, it’s about brands standing in proud opposition to authority.

When you think of defiance in this context, you might think of Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign. And while you’d be right, there’s much more to unpack.

So what does it mean to be defiant today?

All brands are challenger brands

The challenger position has always been the sweet spot in marketing. But it isn’t about challenging the brands around you anymore. Today, countless higher issues demand attention. Being a challenger brand is about challenging something, not someone. We’re talking about a spirit that allows us to disrupt established narratives and upset power dynamics.

The best brands are asking how we can fix problems affecting society in a way that moves the needle meaningfully and authentically. In essence, the next generation of branding is local and genuine, rather than global and pushed down/out. It’s about living in the real world.

To adopt a challenger mindset, start with where your brand can add value

Everywhere we looked at awards shows this year, we saw brands pushing the boundaries of what’s realistically and commercially viable. Brands exhibited a deeper cultural understanding by determining how and where they can contribute value.

While not all pulled it off, many definitely did. IKEA Israel’s “ThisAbles” campaign and The Female Company’s The Tampon Book from Germany are examples of brands standing up for what’s right in a way you just can’t help but talk about. They added value to their audience and society.

Be a guardian of culture, not an opportunist 

According to The Economist’s The World In 2019 report, “Businesses will need to be increasingly alive to social trends and the politics around them.”

But beware. Brands aren’t automatically adding value by talking about a specific issue. Without true skin in the game or an understanding of the context and culture, the work can backfire and you can end up looking like an opportunist. We’ve all seen this countless times.

It’s funny to think that today, brands are the new revolutionaries adding value from the ground up. They are moving from behaving like “opportunists” to becoming “guardians of culture” (that is, investing in the community, joining that culture and helping build something the culture will love) and standing up for what’s right.

American Express’s NBA Jersey Assurance program is one piece of work that’s about standing up for a community, showing you understand the culture, and adding to it. While this might not seem like a serious issue, American Express found its problem to solve, and it had an impact. Other stand-out examples of defiance’s range in emotion and tone include Ancestry’s Railroad Ties (disclosure: our Weber Shandwick New York office worked on this), L’Oréal Paris’ The Non-Issue in Vogue and Kraft Heinz’s LegalAde.

Defiance is most beautiful and impactful when done simply: just try and add value to the people who care about your brand.

To do this, we need to set ourselves a higher bar and lead our clients and peers by example. We need to get to a place where adding value is second nature.


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