The theme of my Cannes talk this year, alongside Conor McNicholas, the chief executive officer of digital engagement agency AllTogetherNow, is how shared passions can, and certainly should, help brands to transcend social divisions.
It’s an issue that has massive resonance right now because post-Brexit, and post-Trump, the world is fractured. This was highlighted again in recent weeks with the apparent divide between the ideals of young and older voters in the UK General Election.
But what can passion points such as sport and music do to help brands make a meaningful contribution in reconnecting society? Well, I’d say that they have a big advantage before we even start because football and music highlight our fundamental need to belong. They also bring to life how this need has recently been profoundly disrupted.
A realisation of this has implications not only in terms of the rules for how to make such brand relationships work but also for why working for social unity is now part of brands’ wider responsibility. Our world is now so consumed by ephemeral belonging, the dopamine hit of ‘likes’ from social media taken to extreme by ‘like’ farms and vending machines in Russia where you pay for ‘Instalikes’.
In this context, real passions such as football and music are unifying forces as shown at last week’s football friendly between France and England, when the French crowd sang along with England fans to ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ to express solidarity following the Manchester bombing. The sheer infectious spirit of music was highlighted with the absurd video of a young man in Chelmsford playing the Venga Boys from his car window and bringing a whole street together to dance just a day after the London attacks
Examples like this demonstrate a common desire from people to be part of something bigger, and football and music have emerged as the ultimate common denominators in connecting individuals with so many others around them.
Brands can get involved and benefit from this but they need to follow the rules. Our point in Cannes is that it’s not about just leaping into music and football and assuming the job is done. On the contrary, brands need to work hard, and over a period of time, to make sure their work with passion points hits the mark:
1. They need to not be dicks. Behave naturally and not like the least cool person at the gig.
2. They must respect fans. This isn’t just a case of understanding through research. People on the brand need to live as fans, be the fans.
3. Don’t be a leech. Add real value to fans.
4. Don’t be transient. Brands that show long-term loyalty to a passion points and the fans reap the rewards.
Above all, brands need to act like Manchester United or Stormzy by identifying a clear purpose and describing a philosophy that fans can buy into.
They could do worse than deciding to ‘Choose Love’. Something we pointed out in Cannes when we ended the talk with New Order’s World in Motion, a perfect example of football and music uniting people through passion. It’s just a shame a brand didn’t think of it.