What brands can learn from Will Smith on authentic marketing

will smith cannes lions

Will Smith at Cannes Lions

“Smoke and mirrors in marketing is over; it’s really over,” said actor Will Smith at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. He was referring to the idea that you used to be able to put “piece of crap movies” out there and get away with it; that you could promote them with loads of trailers featuring explosions in them in order to hide how terrible they really were, but that today’s speed of accessibility has transformed that.

“Now [the audience] only has to be 10 minutes in and they’re tweeting about how terrible it is,” he explained. “They know instantly and they know in real detail.”

It’s a basic lesson highly applicable to the sort of content work as well as the product that brands, including those in the fashion industry, push out today. Getting away with crap is a lot less possible, and rightly so.

What has to happen instead, said Smith, is a shift from focusing on product to focusing on people; on putting their needs first. “I consider myself a marketer. My career has been about being able to sell my product globally. But the power is now in the hands of the fans, so you’ve got to be authentic. The only choice I have is to be in tune with their needs, not try to trick them into seeing Wild Wild West,” he joked in reference to one of his not so successful films. “You have to have integrity or you get shot down in a second.”

He said by having a deeper understanding of people, the product created is going to be more successful. “It’s about making a product that considers the audience first – and considers how to improve their lives [even if that is just about making them laugh],” he explained.

It’s very hard to reverse engineer the other way, he added, because why you did it is already baked in. “If you did it for reasons that are less than noble then it’s going to be a part of the product, or the content or service, and people are going to know it.”

He referred to Apple products as the perfect example of getting it right, because Steve Jobs didn’t care about anything other than creating products that would blow our minds. “That feels like love. People can tell when you’ve considered them in your equation and Apple knows how to do that.”

In essence his message was about thinking of the purpose right from the start. “The reason why you’re doing it has to be the core of the story if you want it to relate to people.”