The rise of the immortalists | IPG Health @ Cannes 2024

Panel Recap from the 2024 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 

The Quest for Immortality. It may sound like another Indiana Jones movie that’s about to hit the box office this summer, but the pursuit for longevity is anything but a work of fiction. It’s a trillion-dollar industry and it’s growing bigger and bigger each day. From celebrity-endorsed anti-aging creams to food supplements packed with spurious health claims, everyone’s trying to convince the intrepid consumer that they hold the secrets to living a longer, if not eternal, life.  

But as marketers, creative agencies and communicators, how do we help our smartphone-wielding consumer parse through these shiny promises and identify what is real and what is junk science? And how do we democratize information and technology so that it’s not just some tech billionaire on the West Coast who gets to drink from the Elixir of Life, while the poor continue to grow frail and die young?  

To answer these and many more questions, a panel of experts gathered during the 71st Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, moderated by Ayesha Walawaker, Chief Strategy Officer at MullenLowe.  

An image of four people standing on stage and smiling during a panel at Cannes Lions

Longevity is a luxury  

Ayesha kick-started the discussion by citing the words of famed transhumanist Ray Kurzweil: “Immortality should be within reach of humans by 2030.” But does anyone actually want to live forever? A meager show of hands in the room suggested that most people don’t.    

Emily English, nutritionist, food influencer and Sunday Times Best Selling author was very much in the “no” camp as well, pointing out the obvious ethical dilemma; any innovation that could enable immortal life would probably be reserved for the wealthy and the well-connected. “Where does that leave the people who are already struggling with their health, their nutrition, the people who don't have access to all of the brand new supplements and brand new technologies that are on the market?”  

As climate change wreaks havoc, the wealth gap widens and resources diminish, an inaccessible key to immortality would only worsen these issues. 

Instead, there may be more accessible ways to keep the population healthier and alive for longer. For instance, we could learn a lot from Blue Zones, parts of the world, such as Greece, with the healthiest, longest-living populations.  

“There was a fantastic study that showed that just following the Mediterranean diet…like whole grains, lots of legumes, healthy fats, reduces all-cause mortality, so that's death by any cause, by 20%,” Emily continued.  

Science doesn’t sell. Stories do

The science and data is out there. In fact, it’s just a Google click away. So, why isn’t everyone rushing to their nearest Sainsbury’s or Whole Foods (depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re reading this from) to stock their fridge with olives, leafy greens, Greek yogurt and sardines?  

Frank Haresnape, Global VP of Knorr & Scratch Cooking, Unilever, saw it as a marketing challenge. “The truth is that…calorie-rich, but nutrient-poor food options do a very good job of marketing themselves.”  

That’s why Knorr is on a mission to “make the good stuff irresistible.” For instance, in the Netherlands, where a staggering 45% of the population don’t have vegetables every day, Knorr relaunched their meal kits with more vegetables written into their recipes.  

“We estimate that actually having done that…increased vegetable consumption in the Netherlands by 3 million kilograms,” Frank stated. As he explained, this is very much in line with the brand’s ethos, since the inception of the infamous bouillon, which was originally designed to make vegetables and spices accessible to people living in urban areas. “So, you know, making good food accessible to all is in the DNA of the brand.”   

However, according to Shaheed Peera, Global Executive Creative Partner at IPG Health, for brands to be able to cut through the noise, disinformation and mouth-watering fast food adverts, they need to become better storytellers.  

“I can tell you, data does not sell. It's all about the stories associated with it first,” he stated. “And it's giving people a reason for them to care from a selfish perspective.”  

In influencers, we trust  

Both Shaheed and Emily agreed that influencers, rather than the government, would likely be more successful at boosting the public’s willingness to make healthier dietary choices.  

“The whole point of having people like Emily here is that in truth, most people are connected to these micro and macro influencers because they trust what they say,” Shaheed admitted. “So, I think whether Rishi Sunak wants to put out a message versus Emily, I know who I'm going to listen to.”  

But if brands want to tap into the power of influencer marketing, they need to trust them as well. The advice from the panel: leverage the credibility and authenticity of influencers, without forcing them to regurgitate a script that would just put off their followers.  

“It's allowing [influencers] the freedom to interpret the story and the product in their own way without too much of an influence from the brand marketing teams, making it sound like they're just getting paid to do it,” Shaheed explained. 

“Because if you do that, it's always going to come across disingenuous,” Emily added.  

Skip the guilt. Keep the pleasure  

In a world where healthy food brands rely less on scientific jargon and earn trust with the help of credible influencers, more of us may be able to make better dietary choices – and potentially even live longer.  

But should the quest for longevity require a life of self-restraint? Even Emily admits that she gives into temptation every now and then. In her case, it’s a glass of wine.  

“The gut and the body is so incredibly dynamic and amazing,” she pointed out. “We are resilient. We should still be making sure that we're getting in all the good stuff that keeps us resilient. But a good glass of wine with dinner…is a must for me.”  

Ultimately, her whole mission and purpose is to develop recipes that help people live longer and that they enjoy eating. “It's the food you want to eat designed by nutritionists and that's always been my strategy line.”