On Brand Activism

With Project Everyone’s Gail Gallie and Film Writer & Director Richard Curtis

In a world calling out for systematic change, Project Everyone hosted a discussion about how we can all become individual activists to support The Global Goals and build back better. Here, Gail Gallie, Project Everyone’s Co-founder, and Film Writer & Director Richard Curtis respond to your questions on brand activism.

Co-founder, Project Everyone
Writer, Director, Co-Founder of Red Nose Day and UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate

What is the best form of activism? Can some activism set causes back, rather than bring progress?

Richard: All forms of activism play an important role in influencing and creating change. The most important thing is to strategise with everyone in mind. For example, If amazing change was happening at a political level, but nothing at all on a grassroots level, that wouldn't create the best possible outcome. Activists might be doing their work with the best of intentions, but are not focused on collaboration. This may not, necessarily, set causes back, but is likely to be less effective and therefore hinder progress.

Do you think that, in these financially difficult times, corporate activism will be put on the backburner?

Gail: That certainly would have been the expectation in the past. However, COVID-19 has actually exacerbated the need for companies to stand up and take a lead on societal issues as there has been increased attention paid to their reaction to the crisis. When the Black Lives Matter protests picked up that incredible momentum after George Floyd’s death, companies were quick to respond and silence became, in itself, a statement. Corporate activism is definitely on an upward trajectory, but companies must ensure they are putting in place the systemic actions in their businesses to back up their public statements or be prepared to be hit with consumer boycotts and employee walkouts.

How can we reconcile what is happening on a global level with change on an individual level, so people can feel they're making a difference?

Richard: Making a difference is not defined by how many people you impact and how global your efforts are. Something as 'small' as picking up litter from the floor and putting it in a bin can make a difference. First, you have to know and believe that you are part of something bigger and you playing your part is making a difference to the bigger picture. Thinking of your activism or your efforts in this way really helps in realising that you are making a difference and playing your part to create a better world.

Further insights from LIONS Live and WeTransfer’s Ideas Report

Natascha Chamuleau

Chief Advertising Officer, WeTransfer

In our 2019 Ideas Report we found that 27% of creatives think about whether an idea will make the world a better place before they decide to pursue it. It’s a heartening stat that reflects the growing number of creatives using their platforms for social good and finding their voices as activists. I’m excited to see a growing corporate awareness about social issues and sustainable growth coming out of this pandemic. We—and by that I mean “us” on an individual, business and societal level—are beginning to realise just how connected we are. With this growing awareness, we’re broadening our sense of responsibility beyond our own people. Organisations woke up to the fact that we’re in this together. If you don’t step up, consumers have every right to criticise you as they walk away. The question of how you want to show up as a brand has become more important than ever.

Simon Cook

Managing Director, Cannes Lions

Brand purpose has been an important theme at Cannes Lions for many years now and in 2019 we saw this evolve into activism. We’ve seen brands taking a stand on multiple social justice issues, using creativity to engage the public in plight: from repurposing a porn magazine to highlight gender inequality and selling tampons via a book to reform sexist tax discrimination, to printing a blank newspaper to spotlight political corruption. Looking at last year's Grand Prix-winners, 38% were orientated towards fighting for wider societal change on a current issue. Fast forward to 2020, in the midst of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, LIONS Live’s Action Day heard brand and agency leaders voicing their commitment to further change through action. Agency We Are Pi who launched their campaign “Before You Shoot” asked the industry to pledge to stop anti-black ad casting and the world’s largest advertiser, P&G’s Marc Pritchard announced the company’s commitment to ‘systemic change’. Why is creativity so crucial to this change? As Activist Sinéad Burke commented as part of the discussions: ‘in changing company cultures and in changing society, what works is changing hearts and minds’. We have seen a step-change this year again as brands recognise their role and responsibility in affecting meaningful change. LIONS Live reiterated: the time for talk is over, it’s time for action.