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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.”

business data mobile technology

Knowing people: how understanding audience through tech is changing fashion now sees 85% of its business taking place online now sees 85% of its business taking place online

In the fiercely competitive retail fashion world, the winners will be those who really understand their customers and can tailor messages to reach them in the moments that matter. That was the key message from a panel discussion at Advertising Week Europe in London this week, where speakers discussed the merging of the online and offline worlds, the increasing role of the smartphone as a bridge between the two, and how best to serve such omni-shoppers.

Ulric Jerome, CEO of, said that 85% of the luxury retailer’s turnover now comes from online – and 42% of that from mobile. This compares to 100% of sales from physical retail just five years ago.

Those figures are particularly high for the luxury sector, which on average sees just 6% of sales from e-commerce, but statistics from McKinsey show that 75% of luxury purchases globally today – even if then taking place in store – are influenced by at least one digital touchpoint. That means that three quarters of all luxury consumers take note of what they see, do and hear about your brand online along their path to purchase. added that bringing in a heavy focus on customer service and personalisation via technology in the physical store has also helped upselling. Sales assistants guide purchases via an iPad-based clienteling app, which has resulted in some of its 12 doors in London putting more than 50% of sales through these devices.

“What the customer wants, regardless of the channel, is the opportunity to have more choice. When they walk into the store they can only see 10-15% of inventory but through technology we can bring the entire inventory to their doorstep,” Jerome explained.

Ulric Jerome of, Josie Roscop of River Island, Eileen Naughton of Google, and Rachel Arthur of Fashion & Mash
Ulric Jerome of, Josie Roscop of River Island, Eileen Naughton of Google, and Rachel Arthur of Fashion & Mash

Josie Roscop, customer director at River Island, meanwhile talked about a willingness to test and learn to see what works for shoppers. She is currently testing with Google’s Local Inventory Ads for instance. “That sort of service is great for the customer. We should then have more data to understand how mobile is influencing store purchases and plan our marketing activity around some of that information.”

She added that the big challenge was to integrate the data generated across touchpoints to build a single customer view (SCV). Such insights drawn from a SCV can then help craft personalised experiences for online audiences that can be carried over into offline conversations when they walk into store. “For us it’s about thinking about customers first, and channels and product second, so we’re making decisions based on what we know customers want and need.”

The ability to measure each of such touchpoints along the customer journey is also vital. Eileen Naughton, Google’s managing director of the UK and Ireland, said that tools like Google’s Store Visits can help identify how online investment translates into footfall and sales. This is a tool that tracks the number of clicks on search ads that result in an in-store visit over the following 30 days.

With the help of Google’s audience solutions, retailers then have insight into whether people searching are new prospects or loyal customers, whether they are first time visitors to the website or app, or returning. This means retailers now have the ability to target audiences with greater precision by defining bidding and creative according to their relationship with the searcher.

Said Naughton: “If you know search, you know people. [Consumers] expect personalisation and relevance, and now you can provide personalised results to their searches.” She predicted that by 2016 a quarter of all UK Google search traffic will be audience targeted in some way – and some players will have up to 70-80% of their search investment containing a form of this data layer.