September 21, 2020

Lessons from the sofa: a look inside Adweek’s Brandweek Masters Live Conference 2020

Susanna Max

Senior Marketing Manager

In any “normal” year, thousands of CMOs, brand leaders, and agency executives would be convening on-site in sunny Miami, FL for Adweek’s annual Brandweek Masters Conference. But alas, ‘Rona has us all settling into our yoga pants and setting up shop on our sofas.  As I joined the at-home club and tuned in to virtually learn from some of the best brand leaders from across the globe, three key themes began to emerge: pivoting, people, and purpose. Oh, and I have to admit, hearing from Hollywood icon Ryan Reynolds was a terrific bonus. 


Maybe “pivot” is the word of the year? In our industry, and in our personal lives, we are learning to pivot thanks to the greatest disruptions of our time: a global pandemic combined with the need for systemic change regarding racial and gender equality. As we continue to live in this world of disruption, it’s important to recognize that you can either pivot on a dime, or fall behind.  The beauty brand e.l.f. examined the changes affecting their top consumers and did something to bring a little happiness to their lives. When hundreds of thousands of proms were canceled for high school students, the company teamed up with quick service giant Chipotle to offer a limited edition gift set. The two even worked with Teen Vogue to host a virtual prom afterparty, offering a much-needed engagement opportunity for teenagers stuck at home.  As CMO Kory Marchisotto shared this week, their formula for success can be boiled down to one sentence: “feet on the ground, head in the stars, and adaptation at ‘e.l.f.’ speed.” 

That notion of speedy pivots was a common thread. This year’s Adweek Brand Visionary, actor and brand mogul Ryan Reynolds, candidly shared his own marketing insights. He’s the face and the brains behind disruptor brands Aviation Gin and Mint Mobile, and he’s been making quick waves in the industry since moving from an on-camera superhero to a businessman on a mission. When Reynolds first bought Aviation Gin, it was a lesser-known adult beverage company breaking into a space that he believed needed disrupting. Using the principles of authenticity and speed, he and his colleagues moved quickly on ideas, avoided red tape, and created empathy-based content that audiences could embrace. Remember this year’s widely talked-about collaboration with the “Peloton girl,” where just days after the athletic company was criticized for portraying the lead character in a poor light, she is seen downing Aviation Gin at a bar with her friends? The spot created tremendous buzz for Aviation Gin, and it was all completed at lightning speed. 

The lessons? Don’t be afraid to pivot. Take risks, and when you are done, don’t look back. 


It’s no surprise that putting people first has become the number one priority for agency leaders and corporate marketers this year. With a global pandemic wreaking havoc and concerns for safety, equality, and justice taking center stage, we could all use a little more comfort. By putting people first, empathy and engagement are now priorities for brands. Former NBA superstar and current chief culture officer for CAA Sports, Dwyane Wade, said it best when he shared his advice: “don’t tell a product story. Tell a human story.”  

The human story is more authentic than ever. Take TikTok, for example. While holding on for dear life, the company is still undoubtedly one of the best ways for brands to intersect with the community. We’re no longer selling a product, we’re creating firsthand brand experiences and real-time stories with our consumers. We don’t make ads. We make TikToks. (And trust me, as a mom to a 14-year old girl, I can tell you it works!) For the first time, we’re witnessing real human moments, set to music and comedy, and brought to life with nothing but a smartphone. As Katie Puris, Managing Director and Global Head of Business Marketing for TikTok, said, “Storytelling is different now. There can be far more engagement between consumers and brands. Let’s get back to great storytelling over time.”


“Doing good is good for business.” Thanks, Brad Hiranaga, General Mills’ Chief Brand Officer, North America.  We couldn’t agree more. There was no truer theme for this week’s conference than purpose and empathy. Nearly every brand leader that took the stage brought it to the forefront. 

Leading the conversation is Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer for Procter & Gamble. When he speaks, we listen. Because P&G brands lead the way in the CPG category, and the company is the first to make change happen. Their foundational stance on the Black Lives Matter movement hit home with the spots they created called “The Talk” and “The Choice.” The chilling scenes they shared that depict what it truly means to be black in America were bold and heartfelt. Now, the company is making an even bigger commitment to gender and racial equality. Pritchard shared that every single production made for a P&G brand will be represented by at least a 50% diverse population, running all the way through the creative process. This means P&G is holding brands, agencies, and production studios accountable to the true representation of our society. Now that’s taking a purposeful stance. 

There is no doubt that the life-changing events of 2020 are forcing all of us in the advertising industry to stop, pause, and take notice. That was incredibly clear as I listened to dozens of presentations this week. And maybe that’s a good thing. Because when we really listen to our consumers, share authentic stories, and lead with empathy, we all win. At Curiosity, we’re listening and learning every step of the way.

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