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Jane Austin in Cannes: brand purpose? You should be having a laugh..

You have to feel a bit sorry for brand purpose, a phrase so overused in recent years that it’s getting the inevitable backlash.

Of course the death knell for purpose is being further sounded by the American right-wing attack on brands venturing into social, environmental or political issues – something AB InBev CMO Marcel Marcondes has seen up close with the Bud Light debacle. In his address to Cannes on Monday, Marcondes described the brand’s boycott by bigoted transphobics (much of the beer drinking population of America or, more politely, the brand’s core audience) as a “wakeup call.”

Rumours swirl the Palais that juries are being encouraged to embrace paying client work as opposed to initiatives with purpose or an NGO at its core. Purpose is so pandemic, and I presume not great for the brands lavishing cash upon the Croisette. What concerns me here, and has become evident over the week, is the conversation is not about innovation or creativity but rewarding a new deity in the still resolutely siloed nature of our industry.

Comedy is on the up however. Why had humour in ads ever been in decline, you may ask? People in advertising blame the pandemic years when brands felt they had to pretend they cared about people and it all got very pompous very fast. Creatives also blame marketers living in fear of using humour inappropriately.

Anyway, if comedy is in demand once again then advertising people will have to think back to a time when they knew how to do it. But before you go looking up Kantar’s study on ‘How to get Humour Right in Advertising,’ be mindful that a key element in comedy is not to overthink it.

One proponent of not overcomplicating comedy is White Lotus creator Mike White (above), who was interviewed on stage at Cannes this week. He said that to create White Lotus he borrowed from his experience as a contestant on reality show Survivor. “It’s lot of people sitting around talking a lot, but the music makes you feel like someone’s going to die. So that part is a little bit Survivor,” he said.

White, who worked in Hollywood for decades before achieving his worldwide hit, explained why his previous shows hadn’t matched the success of White Lotus: “I should put attractive people by swimming pools and a dead body in there and I would have been fine. Sex and violence — people do show up for that!”

So there you have it, comedy genius is about drawing from what you know. And the more violence, sex, death and swimming pools you can throw in, the better. Some golden rules of entertainment never change.

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