What Will Smith can teach ad land about marketing

He might be better known to most as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but Will Smith, who was in conversation with Edelman’s global CCO Jackie Cooper, told audiences at Cannes Lions how his own approach to marketing his movies and projects has changed after years spent in the entertainment industry. 

Smith joked that, in the past, you could make a bad movie, but put out a load of cool trailers beforehand, so people would take a while to realise that the film was actually terrible. These days, someone only needs to tweet that it’s terrible about 10 minutes in for the word to spread. 

“People are going to know really quickly, and globally, whether your product is keeping its promises. The power is now in the hands of the fans, so you’ve got to be decent and authentic. You have to be in tune with their needs – you can’t try and trick people into seeing Wild Wild West anymore,” he joked.  

Smith said that when he started chasing fame and money, rather than true artistry, his craft suffered and he went into a career slump. “I had so much success that I started to taste global blood. I wanted to be the biggest movie star in the world. But I found myself promoting something because I wanted to win, rather than because I believed in it.”

His advice to marketers? Be authentic, be decent, and most importantly, embrace a people-focused mentality, rather than one based on selling product. This is a mission statement that he now applies to every aspect of his career, from the brands he supports to the movies he stars in.  

“The only question I ask myself now is: how will this improve lives? That’s the only goal worth having. Not, ‘will this make me a lot of money?’ You can’t reverse engineer purpose – you need to have that purpose baked into your idea in the first place. Be noble and people will know you for being so.”

Smith compared this attitude and mindset to that of Apple’s Steve Jobs. “[Steve] was so successful because he didn’t care about anything else other than wanting to blow your mind. That feels like love. And people can really tell when you’ve considered them in your equation.”

Subscribers should look out for the Big Ideas report from Cannes Lion on the site next week.

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