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Bravery: Not An Option, But An Imperative

This is the age of leaning forward, reaching out and emphatically demonstrating brand purpose. In today’s world, there are no product or service brands really – only community and cause brands

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It seems strange that the very thing advertising used to stand for in its early days – bold and audacious, attitude-shaping and behaviour-changing creative ideas – needed to become a wake-up call again at Cannes Lions 2017. But the timing couldn’t have been better. A kick in the seat of the pants was in order.

This is the age of leaning forward, reaching out and emphatically demonstrating brand purpose. In today’s world, there are no product or service brands really – only community and cause brands. This was made abundantly clear by the speakers, the workshops, the innovative emerging technologies.

The AIB Rothco session I attended summed it up neatly – bravery begins with the brief. Trevor Robinson OBE spoke of being strong enough to appreciate things that aren’t to your own taste and being able to put yourself on the line. A sentiment echoed by the SRCOM/Filmmaster team that created the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics. To them bravery had a powerful emotional definition: we should look for what we have in common, but we should fall in love with what is different.

That resilience in the face of all odds showed up again in the creative examples Yousef Tuqan showed us in his keynote on the new tribes of Arabia – proving beyond doubt that boldness shines through, the more the restrictions and adversities.

And when John Lewis shared their truly heart-tugging Christmas campaigns, there was no doubt that they broke every rule in the retail selling handbook. Because bravery is also being unafraid to show your emotional side.

Big names in social media were the first to be frank enough to acknowledge their role in our user behaviour. Tim Kendall of Pinterest was rather candid about device-addiction and wanted us to look inward and ask, “am I being myself or am I being my selfie?” YouTube spoke about insightful differences and their consciously encouragement of a new generation that doesn’t believe in following the expected. Twitter had a very serious look at diversity and inclusion and aimed for a fearless hashtagged cultural movement. Facebook and Airbnb advised us to break rules with unstandardised products and immersive creative. “Together we are less alone” was a mantra both brands were bold enough to embrace.

There was a lot going on at Cannes Lions on the gender issue – the most powerful voices were perhaps raised this year.

Sheryl Sandberg, Madonna Badger, Tina Brown, Helen Mirren, Christine Lagarde, Geena Davis, Halsey, Kalie Kloss, Joanna Coles – each a success story of bravery over discrimination and objectification. Leading photographers also spoke of re-imagining stereotypes. From vulnerability to self-doubt, from bias to divide, from purpose to success, we relived the emotions and journeys of these determined women role models.

Technology showed off its daring new avatars. Machine learning, artificial intelligence and bots ruled the discussions.

Hyper-personalisation is in itself a brave new direction in a world of risk-averse mass communication. The amazing possibilities that present themselves to us now demand that we rethink the future. I am also happy to say that IV.AI, the company now in partnership with my agency Tigress Tigress for projects in the UK and in India, are the people who created the official Cannes Lions bot for 2017.

Brands invoked purpose and redefined being resolute. Diageo encapsulated this as the courage to try and fail and showed us that when your identity is questioned, answer with pride. Again, in the animated discussion between Unilever and Huffington Post came this gem on why you need brave advertising. If no one sees you, that’s the costliest ad you created! The L’Oreal self-doubt to self-worth transition is another confident stride ahead. Adidas described this as being anchored in one’s belief. Sir Ian McKellen too urged us to avoid labels, tell more authentic stories and enjoy the fact that diversity drives creativity.

You’ve just got to put yourself out there, create the work that champions a purpose, defy the ordinary and refuse to compromise. Which why, David Droga, who wins the Lion of St. Mark this year and Marcello Serpa who did so last year are so emblematic of the bold and the brave.

Three sound bites will stay with me long after I leave the Palais.

President Juan Manuel Santos told us that it is easy to make war, hard to make peace. He encouraged us to believe in the human rights – even of the enemy.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF showed us through her career path that creativity is all about taking risks – even for yourself.

In the discussion between Sir Martin Sorrell, Robert Kraft and Ron Howard, I heard this amazing nugget: very often, the hard thing and the right thing – are the same thing.  

Bravery lets you do that thing.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Meera Sharath Chandra

Meera Sharath Chandra is Founder, CEO & CCO of Tigress Tigress (a digital-led integrated communications agency in London and Mumbai) and three-time Cannes juror

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