A Field Guide to Celebrities at Cannes

p diddyThe town’s eponymous film festival may get more headlines, but this week has seen its share of celebrity sightings in Cannes. Many occur when these famous faces are flown to France by various brands to share a multitude of marketing messages. And how do they suggest we convey these messages? Authentically.

Following is a list of the marquee names I’ve seen so far and thoughts on their success at engaging, enlightening and entertaining the crowd — all authentically, of course.

Martha Stewart, Mel B (aka Scary Spice), Nick Cannon

No stranger to celebrity gossip, the Daily Mail Online sponsored this session about how these three stars present themselves to the world via social media. The lessons were straightforward and, though it was disappointing to see Martha (who could have easily anchored a riveting session of her own) play third wheel, the panelists quickly got to their point: authenticity.

They strongly believe celebrities need to create their own content and interactions online, since anything that rings false will gain the instant scorn of fans. Extra points go the charmingly off-the-cuff musician/actor/TV personality Nick Cannon, who was unapologetic about owning up to his mistakes online – though he admits there’s one person who can convince him to hold back a tweet: his wife, Mariah Carey.

Jack Black

The first thing Black did onstage was admit that he had had too much to drink the previous night, and it showed. In a Yahoo!-led conversation about online content, he offered running commentary in a low-key version of his trademark bombastic growl. “Authenticity” came up again when he praised Yahoo!’s light touch in shepherding digital comedy projects like his own upcoming “Ghost Ghirls.” Jack’s money quote of the session: “The smaller the screen, the shorter my attention span.”

Dame Vivienne Westwood

The politically outspoken fashion designer and founding mother of punk was the subject of a SapientNitro interview on the future of storytelling.  Westwood earned the crowd’s fierce admiration by blatantly bucking her interviewer’s attempts to steer the conversation.  Storytelling indeed, Westwood  provided her own fascinating – if occasionally rambling – story peppered with insights on bringing our “best selves” to communication by committing our lives to the stories that engage us, from the clothes we wear to the music we listen to.

Westwood showed herself to be the dame she is by following her own path in the interview and creating a truly – here it comes again –authentic moment.  Her reward was the only standing ovation I’ve seen so far at Cannes.

Conan O’Brien, Anderson Cooper

This duo, courtesy of Time Warner, was a pure delight: among TV’s most likeable interviewers volleying one-liners with one of its most eccentric clowns, to the amusement of the marketers who were the butt of their jokes. Beyond the obvious entertainment value, Conan did offer advice on (wait for it) authenticity. He will only work with marketers who give him the freedom to develop his own, often bizarre, relationship to their products.

He also talked about his recent but fast-growing appreciation for  the digital world, where a crack team of content specialists  helps him develop new content, such as Clueless Gamer, Serious Jibber-Jabber, both of which allow him to take his comedy – and yes, brands – in increasingly risky and unexpected directions.

Sean “Diddy” Combs

After his security detail scoped out the stage, Combs was introduced by Steve Stoute, Founder and CEO of Translation, with an over-the-top video documenting his wide-ranging career, buttressed by enough music and flashing lights to satisfy a pro wrestler. But when Combs finally took the stage, he embarked on the largest hiring pitch in marketing with the announcement of his upcoming venture: Revolt TV, “the ESPN of music.”

While Combs is undoubtedly on a yacht accepting resumes from newly minted Lions winners as you read this post, he lost the opportunity to draw larger insights from his vast success and connect with the crowd on a personal level. That said, his two most popular moments came from the heart, when he let slip, “I hate watching ads,” to the apparent delight of the crowd. He quickly recovered, and brought his pitch for Revolt TV to an end with “Be great or go home. Get the f*** out the door.” An authentic message if ever there was one.

Clear away the star value, the laughs and commercial messages, and the celebrity sessions delivered a common learning: while everyone pays lip service to authenticity, in the end, your behaviors and actions lay bare the truth. Don’t just talk authentic, be authentic – your audience is watching.

As for our Cannes celebrities, the next big name on the docket is Lou Reed. Something tells me the aging rocker will be concerned with authenticity. Which means he’ll fit right in.

Ketchum author Jeff Lewonczyk

Jeff is a vice president for content and creativity within Ketchum’s Corporate Communications group.