Could free running, a form of urban acrobatics, possibly have anything in common with marketing? Bob Gilbreath, chief marketing strategist, Bridge Worldwide, an Ohio-based digital and relationship marketing agency; and Jim Stengel, president and chief executive officer, The Jim Stengel Company LLC think it does.
Free runners took over the stage, as the duo began their talk on the evolving nature of marketing, and how brands are acknowledging increased consumer participation.
According to Stengel, the courage, agility and energy of free runners is a metaphor for the challenges marketers face today. Going back to the recent financial crisis, he said that many blamed advertising and marketing for debacles such as Goldman Sachs, AIG and Lehmann Brothers, making the world perceive both professions as far from honourable.
Gilbreath said that there is hope and lessons to be learnt from brands that have picked up the pieces and engaged in fruitful marketing activities.
"There are examples of clever interruptions. We have to take things to a higher level. Brands are often looking for answers. We want to encourage them to stop looking for answers, hit the reset button and ask the right questions," said Gilbreath, focusing on the title of their presentation, 'The Burning Question'.
The discussion has already been brewing online at www.burningquestion.com since mid-March, where business and marketing thought leaders around the world shared their perspectives on the future of the industry.
Talking to marketers, online participants and even taking the discussion to the streets of Cannes, the duo found a common theme to the responses.
The 'burning question', they found, was how people in marketing and business could set higher standards for themselves, in order to create a positive impact on those they serve, their employees, and even the world.
Case studies of companies such as PepsiCo, Levi's, Samsung, P&G and IBM were presented, to show how the brands are identifying the need to change and working towards disruptive ideas that pay off.
A series of recorded interviews were also shown, featuring Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive officer, PepsiCo; Sue Shim, chief marketing officer, global marketing operation and senior vice-president, marketing group and visual display division, Samsung Electronics; John Kennedy, vice-president, marketing, IBM; Salman Amin, executive vice-president, sales and marketing, PepsiCo; Jaime Cohen Szulc, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer, Levi's Brand and others.
The interviewees acknowledged the need for engaging consumers further, to give them control of the brand for a better brand experience.
"We have to capture the consumer's attention in a highly fragmented world; and that is getting increasingly difficult," said Nooyi.
"We have to elevate the reason why we are in the business," Shim said.
Various programmes of the featured brands, such as PepsiCo's Refresh Project, IBM's Smarter Planet and P&G's Pampers campaign for UNICEF were discussed, to further elaborate the changing attitudes of brands and the increased stress on consumer engagement.
"It is about starting a movement," reiterated Gilbreath.
"The language is changing. Something fundamental is going on," added Stengel.
Sitting in the audience was Lisa Mann, vice-president, consumer experiences, Kraft Foods, who expressed her views. "We found things are changing. We realised that we are not just a product company, but a service company as well. We have to understand what the consumers want. The consumer wants to be the hero," she said.
She spoke of how technology helps build better assets to engage with the consumers. She described the iFood application for the iPhone, which helps the user with recipes, grocery shopping and GPS to help locate stores nearby.
Marc Pritchard, global marketing and brand building officer, P&G said in one of the recorded interviews, "Once you have committed yourself to a purpose, you open up to realms and opportunities that you never knew existed. We have to know how to make that one purpose relevant."
Levi's Szulc said that the brand was not thinking about market share anymore, but how it could make a difference in people's lives.
Closing the session, Stengel said that through the discussion, the duo had tried to provide some information and give hope that things are moving in the right direction.
"We have to ask: How do we help each other be a part of this transformation? How do we challenge ourselves so that advertising and marketing become respectable professions again?" he said.
On a parting note, Stengel even suggested that that there should be yet another Lion introduced at Cannes -- the Noble Lion, which would award work that has had a deep impact on consumers.