When Will Smith took the stage for a session at Cannes Lions, the conversation was presented similarly to others – an illustrious entertainer tackling industry-standard questions about branding, ROI and other marketing buzzwords.
But, through his charisma, genuine likeability and an unwavering sense of self, Smith’s words and actions broke through my own cynicism with a powerful message:
“Smoke and mirrors in marketing and sales is over.”
Repeated jabs at his own 1999 film “Wild Wild West” brought home the point that power is in the hands of the audience. Referring to the often panned film as a lag in his career when he prioritized success over artistry, he reminded us to promote ideas and products we can stand behind. As marketers, we should spend more time understanding the audience and less time making a product.
A poignant moment of clarity came when Smith recounted a humorous story about his daughter, Willow, shaving her own head as an act of rebellion against her hit record “Whip My Hair. Despite Will’s efforts to shape her career, she had no heart for it.
The lesson: you cannot sell something the audience does not want.
Getting lost amidst a sea of client demands, industry precedents, and a call for stronger creative means marketing can sometimes get murky. End products can stray from initial strategies or never reach full potential because of a lack of insight at the onset.
Encouraging marketers to embrace a singular “universal relatable emotion” that carries through the brand, Smith spotlighted that you cannot reverse engineer insight and purpose.
This call for truth, honesty and authenticity in marketing shined as he joked with noisy audience members, shared humorous stories about his family and emotionally discussed personal friend Muhammad Ali’s funeral.
I, however, cannot sum up Smith’s enlightening argument for truth-in-marketing better than a single piece of advice his grandmother passed along to him early in his career:
“Please show the world you’re as smart as we think you are.”
A valuable lesson for all brands courtesy of Will Smith’s grandmother.