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Four takeaways from top CMOs at Cannes Lions

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Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Getty / Shutterstock / The Current

As generative AI and new media channels rise in importance in the eyes of consumers and marketers alike, CMOs are faced with a novel set of challenges.

How do you build a brand in this new age? How do you show the value of marketing investments into necessary and innovative technology? Does creativity still have a space? And what needs to be in place for a successful embrace of Generative AI?

With the ad industry gathered this week in Cannes, insights from four of the world’s top CMOs paint a picture of how marketers can succeed as the future of advertising unfolds.

On brand-building

“The USP [unique selling point] construct doesn't apply to us. What we sell is an emotion, a series of emotions and feelings.”

— Manolo Arroyo, EVP and global chief marketing officer, The Coca-Cola Company

Coca-Cola’s brand has historically been among the most recognizable in the world. But as more companies increase investment in brand marketing this year, Arroyo’s approach may help frame and direct marketers’ investments towards the channels most friendly to brand-building efforts.

A study from Digiday and Innovid found that 59% of respondents thought investing in connected TV significantly increased brand awareness. The findings underscore the growing share of media budgets converging toward a channel that has time and again delivered some of the world’s most memorable and effective ads — and helped build some of the strongest brands.

On getting buy-in

“Oftentimes in marketing you are one of the largest spends in the organization that doesn't go right back into your supply chain. […] I don't want to say defend, because it sounds like we're being defensive, but you have to be able to pass the test on why you're making the investments that you're making, and what you hope to get out of [it] for your brand.”

— Emily Ketchen, global vice president and chief marketing officer, intelligent devices group and international markets, Lenovo

Recent research carried out by The Drum showed that 73% of marketers surveyed had difficulties proving the ROI of their marketing investments. That may not always be the case for Generative AI – Klarna recently estimated $10 million in yearly cost savings from adopting the new technology in its marketing activities.

That could explain the hundreds, if not billions, of dollars flying around chasing AI-powered marketing innovations, like WPP and Havas’s respective $318 million and $400 million investments in AI announced this year.

But Generative AI need not be the only, or main, recipient of marketing investment: marketers privy to the industry’s winds of change also know that investing in less “glamorous” tools, like new identity solutions, first-party data, or retail data can also bring substantial dividends.

On meshing creative with media

“When I came into the marketing world a long time ago, there were a handful of channels that connected with consumers, and today there are hundreds of thousands. I’ve had to become a real student of technology and the digital landscape because that is how we’re building relationships with consumers in the future.”

— Morgan Flatley, global chief marketing officer and head of new business ventures, McDonald’s

Some of this year’s Cannes Lions winners took advantage of some media magic and strategy to enchant both audiences and judges. Mercado Libre’s “Handshake Hunt”, a shoppable TV campaign based on handshakes and QR codes, and Volkswagen’s “Sans Emission”, which took advantage of unused TV airtime, are some notable examples.

That may all lead to the realization that a unique creative angle is the only way to break through the omnichannel world marketers find themselves in.

People may consume content in more channels than ever before, but the on-demand nature of content today means that some of today’s most successful campaigns lean on deep consumer insights while taking a media-centric approach, leveraging the technological advancements at marketers’ disposal.

On embracing Generative AI, the right way

“We have to bring things in for a minute before we scale. And by that, I mean we have to get a handle on our brand identity, we have to get that super tight so it can be trained on models, it can be easily scaled as more and more people are able to build content beyond just the creative teams. We have to get our agency ecosystem in line, so we know and understand how all of our content is being created and used and what data we're using.”

— Heather Freeland, chief brand officer, Adobe

You can’t really fault marketers for rushing to “figure out” Generative AI. Predictions of its effects on the industry range from the vaguely comforting “AI won’t take your job, someone who knows AI will” to Apple’s perhaps unintendedly ominous “Crush!” ad for its new iPad lineup.

Generative AI’s content creation wizardry may marry well with the explosion in media opportunities available to advertisers in recent years. The industry’s frenzied response to the likes of ChatGPT is a pretty clear sign that this technological development came at the right time.

Even so, marketers would do well to mind the early mistakes brands are making when they are, perhaps, overzealous in applying Generative AI to their campaigns.

Even OpenAI’s own VP of marketing thinks some marketers may be moving too fast.

“It requires systems and data investment to make it more impactful than just being a writing assistant,” Krithika Muthukumar told Fortune.