The Cannes Report 2024: Brand Partnerships with the Women Driving Culture

21st June 2024

While groundbreaking creatives like Norman Lear, Shonda Rhimes and so many others have long been pivotal in driving representation in media, the past year has witnessed an explosion of influential women, who are captivating audiences worldwide. Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour made history as the first to gross over $1 billion; Beyoncé broke the record for the most GRAMMY wins in history; and Barbie dominated box offices, becoming the highest-grossing film of 2023. Simultaneously, women’s sports soared in viewership during key live events like the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the WNBA finals. Now more than ever, women are central figures in shaping cultural dialogue, accelerating results for the brands who partner with them.

As part of Boster Group’s inaugural panel discussion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – a new chapter in our 7+ year collaboration with The Female Quotient – four remarkable media leaders joined to discuss how brands are leveraging this shift to drive commercial results and push broader cultural conversations in partnership. Panellists Kim Chappell (Chief Brand Officer, Bobbie), Jess Weiner (Founder and CEO, Talk to Jess), Mónica Gil (Chief Administrative and Marketing Officer, NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises), and Megan Ramm (Head of the Americas, Uber Advertising) sat down with Boster Group Founder and CEO Susan Boster to explore the power of women and other underrepresented groups in storytelling and its impact.

Leverage partnerships to grow reach and increase favourability

The UK’s Women’s Sport Trust found that 29% of consumers think more favourably of companies or brands that support women’s sports through their sponsorship, highlighting the significant impact that targeted sponsorships and collaborations can have on public perception and brand loyalty. That was reflected throughout the Cannes Festival this year, where women in sport were celebrated broadly across thought leadership content, brand activations and Cannes Lions.

Brands can also leverage cross-sector partnerships to reach broader audiences, amplifying their impact and making brand initiatives more scalable and sustainable. Well-selected partners bring with them a new variety of potentially relevant channels to incorporate into campaign planning. For example, Bobbie’s collaboration with tennis star Naomi Osaka to tell the story of her return-to-work journey – which was nominated for a Cannes Lion this year – enabled them to authentically represent the experience of new parents within sport. As a result, Bobbie became the first infant formula company to advertise on ESPN, driving major reach as well as meaningful social change through a partnership with Glamour magazine’s #PassPaidLeave initiative.

“Naomi’s office was a tennis court… But she still had the same fears and challenges that all parents go through [when they return to work].” – Kim Chappell

When content reflects the rich tapestry of a brand’s audience, it enriches brand storytelling, which is why Kim says that Bobbie champions parenting in all its intersectional manifestations. Consider the example of Tan France, a gay Muslim immigrant and surrogate father, who shared his journey to parenthood in the US with Bobbie. His unique narrative speaks to the lived experience of so many diverse parents, connecting with wide audiences who see themselves mirrored in his triumphs, challenges and choices regardless of their own intersectional identities.

Brand Building

Brands like Uber know that to harness collaborations with diverse partners effectively, brand teams also need to reflect diversity – something that can be supported through partnerships that enable knowledge and skill-sharing. As such, Uber is implementing policies to ensure there is adequate representation behind the scenes to truly showcase diverse stories in their B2C marketing, particularly in spaces where brand narratives are crafted—such as in the writers’ room. Telemundo adopted a similar strategy, consciously move away from stereotypical female-driven plotlines, which rarely present women in lead roles and often as a ‘damsel in distress’. They challenged these familiar tropes within Spanish-language television, dismantling clichés and ensuring female characters were being written and produced by women behind the camera, as well. Their success is evident in the numbers: Telemundo is now the #1 most-watched Spanish-language network in primetime, driven by relevant content that is created by and for diverse, intersectional Latino audiences. Mónica attributes this success, in part, to the network’s intentional representation of different skin colours, national cultures, and gender identities.

Women, girls and non-binary individuals should become the subject of their own stories, not the object of somebody else’s – Jess Weiner

Bobbie, for example, has an advisory group of influential and diverse leaders from across fields—stylists, athletes, artists, and academics— that help them better understand the diverse needs of parents and champion parental policies. Their Naomi Osaka advertisement was also written and produced by their in-house team of working moms, ensuring the authenticity of the narrative throughout the process.

Compelling storytelling that truly embraces diverse experiences begins with a clear understanding of identity. A brand’s mission, vision, purpose, and core values should guide its actions, and its actions should guide its narratives – avoiding the pitfall Jess calls, “SFSN: Sounds fabulous but signifies nothing.” Jess’s approach to storytelling has been instrumental in her contributions to the success of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, which she helped to launch 20 years ago. In a survey by Kantar, Dove emerged as the most inclusive brand among 71 contenders, celebrated for its diverse representation across genders, body types, and skin tones. Dove’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion has positioned it as a trailblazer in the industry, pioneering inclusivity long before it became mainstream.

Bottom Line

The results are in: over half of UK consumers (53%) acknowledge that a brand’s diversity and inclusion efforts significantly influence their purchasing choices, and according to Meta, campaigns that embrace diverse representation are 90% more likely to be effective in driving ad recall. When audiences feel seen and heard, brands benefit. In a year of such accelerated success for women across media, brands that were well-positioned to capitalise on that trend through their partnerships saw huge gains. The takeaways from this conversation highlight not only the business imperative but also the transformative potential of integrating partnerships with diverse advocates and allies into brand strategies. When all voices are heard and celebrated, it shapes our wider cultural discourse – and the brands who can claim authentic narratives at the heart of that are the brands that succeed.

Watch the full panel discussion on The Female Quotient’s LinkedIn channel.