The Biggest Takeaways From Brandweek

Purpose, risk-taking and teamwork were among the themes

This year's Brandweek event drew about 700 attendees and honored those including Chrissy Teigen, Adweek’s Brand Visionary. Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—After years of conversation around big data, digital transformation and AI, brand marketers are going back to the basics and creating purpose for brands that goes beyond traditional advertising.

At the second annual Brandweek event, themes related to teamwork, brand purpose, social relevance and working with celebrities dominated the conversation among brand marketers, advertisers and agencies. The event, which drew about 700 attendees, celebrated the work of brands in the space, with the annual Brand Genius awards, in which Chrissy Teigen won Adweek’s Brand Visionary honor and Mike Benson, former marketing chief for Amazon and now president and CMO at CBS, won Adweek’s top honor of Grand Brand Genius. The event culminated with a fireside chat with Grammy-winning producer Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, and the first annual Constellation Awards, celebrating the teams behind brands’ great work.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Brandweek:

Brand purpose matters more than ever

Over the past few years, brands—particularly legacy brands—have undergone a reckoning and realized that a brand not only needs a purpose, but it must stick to that purpose. It’s a vision that Target’s CMO, Rick Gomez, emphasized, as he pointed out how the company pushed for more inclusive sizing from its designers. Target wants to become a “for all” brand that makes anyone, regardless of their background or size, feel welcome in the store.

When people come to our stores, they feel included,” Gomez said.

Part of the inclusivity also led to Target revamping its loyalty program this year and rolling out Target Circle. The brand’s second attempt at a loyalty program is working out so far. More than 25 million people signed up in the first four weeks.

Other legacy brands, like Gap, are also coming to terms with their changing relationship to the consumer. Gap’s CMO and svp, Alegra O’Hare, spoke about getting the brand back to its basics and celebrating items like the iconic Gap hooded sweatshirt and doubling down on denim. By going to its roots, O’Hare said, the brand can reach new customers and keep its repeat purchasers.

(L. to r.) Target CMO Rick Gomez; Gap CMO and svp, Alegra O'Hare; and Pedro Earp, global CMO and ZX Ventures officer at Anheuser-Busch InBev
Sean T. Smith for Adweek

Creating authentic moments on social is key

Brandweek started off with some of the most anticipated news in the food world: The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich came back after a short hiatus. Fernando Machado, the global CMO for Burger King and Popeyes, said there’s “nothing fancy” about the sandwich itself. The popularity and hype around it was largely driven by Black Twitter, said God-is Rivera, global director of culture and community at Twitter. It was an unanticipated moment for the brand and its agency, GSD&M, but the teams leaned into it and let the Twitter community dictate the conversation. As Rivera explained, letting Black Twitter dominate the conversation around the sandwich let the entire phenomena become more authentic and one that other brands can’t necessarily replicate.

“If you don’t know Black Twitter, you can’t find Black Twitter,” Rivera said.

Organic social moments are right in Bud Light’s wheelhouse. Pedro Earp, global CMO and ZX Ventures officer at Anheuser-Busch InBev, explained how the company is in “the business of bringing people together,” which meant recalibrating its portfolio to meet certain consumer demands and trends, such as creating new products like Natural Light Seltzer. With a product like Bud Light, the brand finds moments to insert itself into the social conversation—such as when Washington Nationals fan Jeff Adams held onto his two Bud Light beers during the World Series. The Bud Light team searched for him, invited him to the final game, and created two different ads around Adams for giving the brand a moment in social that couldn’t be more authentic. However, as Earp said, part of the fluidity and ability to react in real time is thanks to how the brand team, agency partners and AB InBev’s own internal agency, Draftline, work together as a single team.

“To me, there’s one brand team, and the brand team is accountable,” Earp said.

The common thread throughout these panels? Twitter. It was the platform of choice for Amy Elkins, president of media and marketing innovation at STX Entertainment, the agency behind promoting the film Hustlers. To do so, Elkins said, the company leaned into Twitter to start a conversation around equality and engage the actresses who were part of the film in a panel discussion about that. The hashtag accompanying the panel, which was streamed live on Twitter, became the No. 2 hashtag based on single-day usage.

GSD&M's Angela Brown, Twitter's God-is Rivera and Popeyes' Fernando Machado at Brandweek 2019
Sean T. Smith for Adweek

Celebrities want to remain true to themselves when working with brands

This year’s Brand Visionary, the incomparable Chrissy Teigen, explained in a fireside chat with editor, svp, programming, Lisa Granatstein, how she manages to maintain her outspoken brand online and across different categories. Part of it, she said, is remaining authentic and being herself—so you won’t see her randomly posting sponsored content just for the sake of it.

“Even when I sign on to work with a company, I think that’s always the first thing we do is we look at the social, because it’s incredibly unnatural for me to post so many sponsored ads,” Teigen said.

And it goes both ways. Brands need to understand who Teigen is and let her promote them the way she wants to, and Teigen wants to work only with brands that make sense.

It’s a sentiment Swizz Beatz echoed his a conversation with Adweek’s chief brand officer, Danny Wright. The Grammy Award-winning producer said everything he does needs to align with his roots and who he is. For example, though he’s the executive music producer for the show Godfather Harlem, he said he’d only appear in front of the camera if it was the right role, not simply for the sake of appearing.

Grammy-winning producer Kasseem 'Swizz Beatz' Dean, and Chrissy Teigen, Adweek's 2019 Brand Visionary
Sean T. Smith for Adweek

Partnerships are still vital for brands

Product placements are nothing new, but as Anthony Anderson, executive producer and star of the show Black-ish, said, those types of partnerships—such as an upcoming one with his show and Facebook—can only exist if it makes sense with the story. For example, Anderson, a paid spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, which provides treatment for Type 2 diabetes, recently integrated the company into an episode for Black-ish. The placement made sense—Anderson has Type 2 diabetes and scripted the treatment into the show in a way that also talked about how the disease affects his community.

“[It has to] fit organically so it’s not being forced upon an audience,” Anderson said.

Partnerships with companies like Google and Spotify have allowed NPR to reach a new and younger audience, said Gina Garrubbo, president and CEO of National Public Media, which works in tandem with NPR. NPR is now working with brands beyond the Fortune 500 and collaborating with commerce platforms like Squarespace and Mailchimp.

“Legacy platforms like radio are stronger than ever because apps, streaming and voice activation have made them more personal,” Garrubbo said.

@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.