In an exclusive interaction with afaqs!, the duo talk about the definition of a meaningful brand, how to cater to Gen Z and navigating AI. They also discuss how brands can navigate media plans in a digital-first world and Havas’ vision.
As the world is trying to get back up on its feet post-COVID, audiences expect brands to play a crucial role in helping them get through the pandemic. The role of a ‘meaningful brand’ has evolved.
Unlike the popular narrative about audiences noticing what the brand chooses to do for others, they now also want to know about the role brands play in their lives. This is further defined in the Havas 2023 Global Meaningful Brands report.
“We define a meaningful brand as one that really contributes to someone’s life. How has the brand enabled them to do something new or fresh, how has it empowered their lives in a certain way, how has it opened up their perspective on something, and how has it set itself up within society,” Mark Sinnock, global chief strategy officer, data and innovation officer, Havas Creative Network, tells afaqs!.
For Indians, the definition is a bit more nuanced, adds Anirban Mozumdar, CSO, Havas Creative India.
“Compared to the other markets, India has gone digital at a dramatic rate. With the number of mobile phones, there is an immense exposure to a variety of goods and services. I think meaningfulness in India and the Indian consumer’s context is about looking for more access, control, and simplicity in experience. That doesn’t mean brands can’t pick causes.”
The report extensively talks about the rise of ‘Meconomy’ and what it means for brands. Sinnock says that the consumers have seen companies make tall claims and promises to improve their lives, and make the world better. However, their lived experiences tell them otherwise.
“Me-economy is about myself. We are not saying that people are selfish. We are saying that they want some attention back to them because brands and businesses seem to have had their attention elsewhere.”
Navigating cancel culture and trolling
Brands are going through a tough time. Standing up and talking about societal problems is something the Gen Z is passionate about. But things can go south if brands are not able to define their purpose to audiences. They can face the brunt of trolling and ‘cancel culture’.
“Brands need to have a cause, but I think personal relevance and resonance are both becoming important. Brands should try to stay relevant, instead of just ‘causevertising’, because you will not be able to solve the issues anyways,” says Mozumdar.
According to Sinnock, it is important for brands to be authentic to the causes they take up.
“If a brand jumps on a bandwagon, consumers will be able to see it right away. Tangibility also matters. There has to be a significant relation between what brands say and do, because if they are just talking, audiences can pick it up quickly. Especially Gen Z, who have so many choices.”
Sinnock and Mozumdar feel that AI is still in the novelty phase, and needs to be used carefully. They want to focus on bringing out a more positive outlook, as far as the technology goes.
Havas has articulated a specific position for AI, where it wants to talk about solving problems and improving efficiency.“We want to help and use it to connect people together, rather than replace people or jobs.”
Sinnock adds that brands can bring AI and causes together to solve issues on a more practical level. “For example, AI and sustainability should come together. AI has the ability to drive far greater efficiencies in our marketing and reduce the amount of waste in our ecosystem.”
However, the downside of using it creatively is that systems learn from themselves and effectively start to recreate content that engages further with audiences. “I think people, particularly younger audiences, will quickly work out that they are not interacting with a human. So, I think we have to be careful about how we apply it because it puts relationships at risk.”
Havas has been continuously acquiring agencies and expanding its horizons. Sinnock and Mozumdar say that the focus is to communicate through ‘the entire funnel in the way the consumer demands it and can respond to it best’. “I think the outlook has always been to look for services where we are able to fulfill a clear gap in that funnel,” Mozumdar states.
“Havas has soft edges. We are used to bringing different businesses together in different ways. We like to have soft edges so that we can introduce and integrate businesses and take advantage, but also allow them to live, breathe and have their own strengths,” adds Sinnock.