In news that will come as no surprise to anyone who has attended an ad industry event in the last 20 years, one of the most-discussed topics at the 2014 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is how agencies and clients should best respond to consumers' changing digital behaviours. A fresh take on the topic came in an event organised by our very own Admap magazine in Cannes yesterday afternoon – which showcased and discussed brand-new digital advertising research from Google, the tech giant, ad agency network Ogilvy & Mather and market research firm TNS.
The standout finding – that consumers are 1.5 times more likely to choose brands that engage them on their passions and interests than items that simply urge them to buy the product being advertised – makes sense. But the wide-ranging discussion of the issues raised held at Google Beach, just off the Croisette, teased out many more pertinent issues that serve as a salutary warning to brands that hope to thrive in the digital age.
Tara Walpert Levy, Google's director of marketing, summed up the research: "I don't think interruptive marketing is dead necessarily – there's still a place for it," she said. "No new media has ever entirely wiped out the old one. But you'll see more brands take the digital opportunity."
That said, brands should learn from three major strands of the research results – each of which challenges the old way of doing things.
1) Purpose equals purchase
"More than ever, time messaging and content is critical for getting people to share," Walpert Levy said. "You need to tap into their passions." The research showed that 64% of consumers react best to advertising of this kind.
One high-profile recent example of this is Nike's recent four-minute ad, developed by Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, based around this year's World Cup.
"The whole topic of this video is close to the core positioning of Nike," added TNS' Dirk Steffen. "There is always the dream of being a world-class athlete. And it's really capturing the imagination of the viewer."
2) The power of influence is greater than the power of time
"We saw zero correlation between media usage and media influence" Walpert Levy said, adding that the research even showed that (Google-owned) YouTube has 25% more influence on the final purchase than TV.
This implies a world where it's getting harder to love brands – but easier to like brands. For example, Samsung recently posted an eight minute long YouTube video that was a how-to-use for its new smartphone. The branded video now has over 26m views. "It's a dry thing, but people are interested in the features, so they watch!" Steffen said.
3) Experience is better than exposure
"Brands that help people to feel are the brands that win," Walpert Levy said. One example of this can be seen in a recent video for Save the Children, a UK charity.
After 31m YouTube views and mass exposure on social media, the campaign is now at 95% of its donation goal. "It's about engagement, getting people to watch – and share," Walpert Levy said.
The research appeared to strike a chord with both the client and agency sides at the event. Mark Mathieu, SVP for marketing at Unilever, the FMCG giant, commented: "The reality is that people will connect to something that they can believe in – and that you can believe in too. Sharing your beliefs. There are now so many different ways for people to escape ads that unless there is something that interests you and that you can believe in."
From the agency side, Guy Murphy, worldwide planning chief at JWT, added: "Hearing Tara talking about digital building brand purpose was great. I'm heartened that we are in that chapter now.
"We have to get beyond the interruptive/engagement thing. It is just engagement. Therefore the answer just is content – wherever that is."
"The old ad model is that you add emotion to a product – and it's the emotion that makes the difference. But now, where people are so informed about product, they're very focused on the tangible product value. They're not ready for 'emotional jazz hands'!"
So the data is in. How does the industry react? Murphy, for one, had some very specific guidance. "The comms industry owes their clients a clearer opinion on digital," he said.
"So let's get out of the grey area and agree on the basics."