Industry Insiders Talk Generating Culture, Finding Humor in Advertising and the Future of Marketing at Variety Cannes Lions Studio

Variety has returned for the second annual Executive Interview Studio, presented by Canva. Top CMOs and senior marketing executives participated in the studio and attended the festival. The Studio took place from June 18-20 at the Canva Villa, and Variety journalists moderated all conversations.

Company leaders and creators like Tusar Barik, Rob Giglio, Jon Cook, Xavier X Jernigan, William White, Laura Jones, Zach Kitschke, Kenan Thompson, Keri and Yara Shahidi, Lisa McKnight and Kristine Segrist all participated in the conversations revealing what motivates them, how they started, building their brands and much more. Take a look at some of the highlights from the studio below.

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Lisa McKnight – EVP, Chief Brand Officer, Mattel and Kristine Segrist – Global Head of Consumer Marketing, Canva

Lisa McKnight, the chief brand officer at Mattel, spoke about the challenges of balancing the many brands under Mattel and specific title marketing.

“Almost 10 years ago, we created a playbook called ‘The Mattel Playbook.’ Brand purpose is one of the most important pillars of that playbook. ‘Why do these brands matter? What do they inspire?'” McKnight said.

Kristine Segrist spoke about how they keep Canva fresh and attractive to consumers because it’s also used for educational purposes.

“We have a value in making complex things simple. So we really want to take the fragmentation around the design ecosystem and pull it all into one simple page for people. I think at the highest order, the way we think about across all of our audiences is this sense of empowerment,” Segrist said. “Most of us are not designers by trade. The 99% of us who are a student or a teacher or a small business owner or might work in finance, but we all need to tell stories with impact.”

McKnight also mentioned how Mattel plans to continue to expand with the launch of another child’s favorite character—Barney, later this year.

Tusar Barik – Senior Director, Marketing, LinkedIn and Rob Giglio – Chief Customer Officer, Canva

Despite the surplus of brands available competing for the world’s attention, Tusar Barik from LinkedIn and Rob Giglio from Canva have found ways for their companies to stand out.

Barik explained that LinkedIn has always excelled at business-to-business communication; however, recently, the company has chosen to focus on creativity in advertising and marketing, focusing specifically on sparking an emotional connection to the viewer.

“In the past couple of years, you’ve seen things like Super Bowl ads that are B2B ads. You’ve seen all these different things come about and being more creative by using celebrities, by using emotions and things like that,” Barik said. “The first year we just saw a lot of funny ads or celebrity ads and things like that. But what was lacking at that point was there wasn’t a connection to the business — so what we’re starting to see is a trend in how to use emotion in B2B marketing, but also drive attention to the actual problem that they’re helping solve.”

For Canva, Giglio said the velocity of publishing, design, and expression was higher than ever. Since Cannes Lions is a place where trends start, Giglio also mentioned the new things he’s observed.

“I’ve never seen brands opening up access to their user base like what I’m seeing this week. This, by the way, just ties back into the same challenge because as more avenues open up, there’s more need for content because they’re using different format sizes. And there’s a different methodology to be successful there, whether it’s short-form video, whether it’s static, it’s kind of mind-blowing. That’s the one trend that really surprised me. I didn’t expect to see that,” Giglio said.

Jon Cook – Global CEO, VML and Kenan Thompson – Actor, Producer, Comedian and Cast Member of ‘Saturday Night Live’

VML CEO Jon Cook and “Saturday Night Live” mainstay Kenan Thompson are turning advertising into an industry of humor. Following their panel on “The Return of Humor to Advertising,” Cook and Thompson sat down in Variety’s Cannes Lions Studio to discuss how they help brands make their audiences laugh.

Whether it’s Flo from Progressive or the Geico Gecko, Cook notes that “there’s usually humor involved” with the most memorable advertising campaigns. While he emphasizes it “has to be right for the brand,” Cook says getting a chuckle from a potential consumer is almost always a smart way to boost sales.

“It’s not setting out to say, ‘We’re going to do humor with a brand,'” Cook said. “It’s always about who the audience is, what you’re trying to connect and what the product is. But, a lot of times, humor is the best way to do it and be memorable.”

Thompson has relished the experience of working with Cook in advertising, adding that “there’s nothing better than to just sit around and laugh all day.”

“When everybody’s happy, everybody’s laughing or trying to hold in laughter behind the scenes, it makes the day go by a lot faster,” Thompson said. “And then like Jon was saying, I think it resonates with people when you really hit a funny bone.”

Xavier ‘X’ Jernigan – Head of Cultural Partnerships and Voice of AI DJ, Spotify

Xavier “X” Jernigan is not only a top executive at one of the world’s most popular music streaming services, but he is also the voice of their AI DJ. As part of Variety’s Cannes Lions Studio conversations, Jernigan sat down to discuss how Spotify has joined the business of “generating culture.”

Spotify was founded on “the cornerstone” of music, but the platform has since evolved into a hub for a diverse range of audio content. According to Jernigan, this expansion has transformed Spotify into a media service encompassing all things culturally relevant.

“If anything happens in the world or they want to find out what’s happening, people come to Spotify. Whether it’s podcasts, audiobooks and of course music,” Jernigan said. “So if a moment happens in a TV show, and there’s this big music moment around it, people go on Spotify to extend that storytelling.”

William White – CMO, Walmart

As chief marketing officer at one of America’s most universal big box stores, William White has over 4,000 storefronts to account for when developing his advertising strategy. White stopped by the Variety Cannes Lions Studio to discuss how he navigates an increasingly digital market.

White’s main focus is to “create and capture demand” within the Walmart brand, but with online shopping taking over the retail landscape, he and his team have focused on shifting Walmart to fit the needs of the modern consumer.

“The big focus for us has been re-framing Walmart as a digital-first destination. [We’re] driving people to think of us as more than just a store, as a place to come digitally. A lot of our efforts are focused in that way,” White said. “When they’re coming, we also want them to think more broadly of us as a general merchandise retailer, not just their grocery store, but a place that you can come and discover.”

Laura Jones – CMO, Instacart and Zach Kitschke – CMO, Canva

Laura Jones, the CMO of Instacart, and Zach Kitschke, the CMO of Canva, are both trying to empower creativity within their own companies and inspire customers’ creativity.

“We take care of the groceries so you can take care of what you love,” Jones said. “Our brand ethos is all about making this task of running your household as seamless as possible so that you can invest time in the people and things that you care most about.”

Globalizing Canva in 2016 meant finding commonalities in the brand essence and tailoring what pre-made formats and other tools are marketed in different countries, according to Kitsche.

Kitsche said global marketing draws from elements that are true to the brand and brings them to life in a local way.

“We think about how we represent the brand through our community and the content that we show,” Kitsche said.

Yara Shahidi – Actress, Producer and co-founder of 7th Sun Productions and Keri Shahidi – producer and co-founder of 7th Sun Productions

When ABC approached mother-daughter duo Keri and Yara Shahidi with a production deal, Keri Shahidi told her daughter she wanted to wait for her to get through her first year of college.

The following year, the two founded their production company, 7th Sun Productions.

“Everything we do stems from a place of curiosity,” Keri Shahidi said.

While the pair were initially worried about liking too many of the projects they were pitched, Keri Shahidi said their decisions of what they would take on were instinctual. And, whatever they loved but passed on, could be brought to some of their friends throughout the industry.

“We get to really enjoy our work because we’re approaching it as whole humans; we’re not just business partners and colleagues that only care about the output of the production company,” Yara Shahidi said. “We get to have these really full conversations about how business falls into life, falls into our personal growth and projects.”

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