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Marketing Mavens Talk AI, Industry Headwinds, the Allure of ‘Cultural Moments’ and America’s Armpits

“Data does not make a marketer great. Data is ingredients. Marketers are the chefs.” So said Patrizio Spagnoletto, Warner Bros. Discovery’s global chief marketing officer for direct to consumer, last week during Variety’s Cannes Lions studio presented by Canva.

Spagnoletto was among more than a dozen top executives who took on burning subjects for the global marketing and advertising sector in interviews recorded during the annual Cannes Lions Festival, held June 17-21. The festival is devoted to celebrating creativity and innovation in marketing and advertising. To do so, top players from a range of businesses gather in the south of France for a week of splashing money around and talking about the future of brand-building.

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As such, Cannes Lions provides a once-a-year chance to gain insights from the biggest names in marketing. My London-based colleague Ellise Shafer joined me for three packed days of video interviews, all of which can be found on the website.

This episode features highlights of conversations about audience-targeting strategies and navigating a fractured media landscape from leaders at Disney, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount, Spotify, Colgate-Palmolive, Volkswagen, Roku, Wondery, Group M, iHeartMedia, Mattel, American Express and more. Also featured are boldface names such as Queen Latifah and social media star MrBallen.

But first, Shafer and I talk a little shop and compare notes on what we learned over 72 hours of speed dating with CMOs. Shafer, who is Variety‘s London news editor, was impressed by the range of responsibilities — from creating memorable taglines to analyzing reams of data — that the discipline requires in the digital age.

“You have to have so many different skills: You have to be proficient in tech and data as well as social skills and people skills like connecting with others,” Shafer said. “There’s no real rulebook for what we’re going through right now with the changes we’re seeing. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of confidence. At the end of the day, they’re [trying] to sell something.”

Here are a few interview highlights from the episode:

MrBallen (TikTok star): “I fell into content creation totally by accident. I was in the Navy for seven years. And then when I got out of the military, I didn’t know what I was gonna do. I was doing some philanthropy and some consulting. But I saw this thing — social media – which seemed like a really cool opportunity. And I wound up posting something that went viral. And it was me telling a story about these hikers that went missing in the 1950s. And truthfully, I didn’t know if that would turn into anything. It was frankly just kind of incredible to put something on the internet that people tuned into. And so instead of thinking this is going to be a business, I just focused on mastering the craft of turning stories into really engaging content over and over again.”

Jessica Ling (Exec VP of global brand advertising for American Express): “We set out this year to really drive a better connection between media and content. And one of the ways that we do that is through better aligning on context. We know if that you’re in the right context, it’s just going to drive better outcomes for the creative. And so if you watch live sports, you’ll see AmEx ads. Recently what we’ve really honed in on is a strategy that brings our media contacts and our creative closer together.”

at the Variety Cannes Lion Studio presented by Canva as part of Cannes Lion held on June 20, 2024 in Cannes, the Variety Cannes Lion Studio presented by Canva as part of Cannes Lion held on June 20, 2024 in Cannes, France.

Diana Haussling, Colgate-Palmolive CMO for North America, and Sharb Farmaji, CEO of Group M North America, at Variety‘s Cannes Lions studio presented by Canva

Diana Haussling (Colgate-Palmolive CMO for North America): “For us, it’s really about understanding how consumers tick, leveraging that insight and remaining relevant to them and making sure our products deliver on their promise. And then leveraging marketing as a tool to remind consumers that we can play an integral part in their lives. And we really think about doing that in a couple of ways. One is all about culture, and how we play and are part of culture — not in an inauthentic way. Nobody wants to be the old dude in the club. It’s really about how we infuse ourselves in culture and cultural moments, and then it’s about taking those moments and making them scalable.”

Xavier “X” Jernigan (Head of cultural partnerships for Spotify and the voice of its AI DJ): “Spotify is driven by culture. Culture is reflected on our platform. Anything happens in the world, or they want to find out what’s happening in the world, people come to Spotify. Whether it’s podcasts, audio books, but of course, music is the cornerstone. Music is the foundation. So a moment happens in a TV show and there’s a big music moment around it — people go on Spotify to extend that storytelling. So that’s what it means to be in culture. My role specifically is to make sure that Spotify is on the pulse of culture.”

(Pictured top: Xavier “X” Jernigan, MrBallen and Queen Latifah)


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