Will Brands Save the World?

Be generous, make long-term commitments through partnerships and be aware of how your brands can make a positive contribution. This is the new model of brand purpose and how it delivers to the bottom line.

Farah Ramzan Golant, CEO, kyu EMEA and a juror for this year’s Glass Lions, observes:

“There’s a marked consciousness and change in brands' understanding that you can’t jump on something because it’s International Women’s Day. Brands are balancing purpose-led work, while bringing the core of their brand values close to their heartland.”

In his discussion with Neil Lindsay, VP of Marketing and Prime at Amazon, Author and Historian Yuval Noah Harari reminded us why all brand values must align with human values.

Watch Amazon’s Keynote On Demand

Purpose to the second power

The pandemic has exacerbated consumer scepticism towards brands that appear to be purposeful; selflessness and action are resonating much more positively with audiences. Gail Heimann, PR Lions Jury President, calls it “purpose to the second power”. She adds: “It used to be more about awareness-building. Now, we’re looking for real, enduring change.” MARS Global VP of Brand and Purpose, Michele Oliver, a juror for the Sustainable Development Goals Lions, added: “If you only do it for a year, I'm not interested. That's just a PR stunt or a gimmick.” As a result, a commitment to long-termism echoed throughout the winning work. HSBC and PHD UK won Gold for ‘No Fixed Address’, a permanent solution to homeless people being unbanked. FCB Chicago’s work for Michelob Ultra won a PR Grand Prix for ‘Contract for Change’. This supports US farmers to switch to organic methods by providing money and training for three years. And telco Telenor won Ogilvy Pakistan the nation’s first Grand Prix with ‘Naming the Invisible’, a project that put 1.2m children on the birth registry.

Be generous; take a backseat

Winning purpose-led work often kept the brand in the background. Because brands weren’t asking audiences to recognise the good they were doing; they were simply doing it out of generosity. Outdoor Grand Prix winner, Heineken’s ‘Shutter Ads’, through Publicis Italy, re-routed the beer brand’s outdoor advertising budget to closed bars. The OOH ads didn’t urge people to buy Heineken; instead, they assured locals that their favourite bars would still be there post-pandemic. “Generosity was the most important thing to communicate during the pandemic,” recalls Bruno Bertelli, Global Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Worldwide. The Glass Grand Prix, ‘I Am’ by Starbucks, through VMLY&R Brazil, turned coffee shops into notary offices to help transgender Brazilians make their names official. Glass Lions Jury President Bozoma Saint John, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Netflix, says: “The idea that a brand can do the double work of bringing awareness to assist people in a situation or challenge and then go the extra step to change lives and think about people whose lives are fundamentally different… is beautiful.” It doesn’t take a pandemic to motivate generosity. Budweiser, in its ‘Future Official Sponsors’ work, through VaynerMedia New York, used its marketing budget to recruit more sponsors for the National Women’s Soccer League, to help close the sport’s pay gap. It took a Gold Lion in the Social & Influencer Lions. This exemplifies We First Inc. founder Simon Mainwaring’s advice: “Be a purpose with a company, not a company with a purpose.”

Act with purpose and sell later. Simon Mainwaring, CEO and Founder at We First Inc., is challenging marketers to lead with impact in a landscape where trust is increasingly hard to come by.

Catch up on this session On Demand

Marketers as activists

The idea that marketing can change the world isn’t a new one, but this year, more people were actually doing it. From climate change to racial inequity, brands were taking on the world’s biggest problems, making the leap from advocacy to action.

Doconomy’s ‘2030 Calculator’, which won the Sustainable Development Goals Grand Prix, gave brands across the world a tool to calculate the carbon footprint of their products. And Design Lions Grand-Prix winning ‘H&M Looop’, through AKQA Stockholm, brought garment-to-garment recycling in-store at H&M, directly addressing fast fashion’s contribution to landfill. “There’s true power that corporations have, but in the past, they never really leaned into,” says Tiffany R Warren, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer/Founder and President, Sony Music Group/ADCOLOR. She says, “I’m seeing companies lean into it a lot more.”

There’s a realisation within the industry that organisations have played a part in creating many of the issues, so there’s now a drive to fix them. “We can’t hide anymore and say ‘I’m not producing these things, I’m just advertising,’” says Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley. “We are the architects of reality. It’s our responsibility to define the future.”

In 'The Changemakers: What Matters Now' session, Tiffany R Warren, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer/Founder and President, Sony Music Group/ADCOLOR discusses how corporations are leaning into their true power to help society for the better.

Catch up on this session On Demand.

Will brands save the world? This year they gave it a good go. The PR Lions saw a 37% increase in work for the Corporate Purpose and Social Responsibility category. In the Direct Lions, CSR submissions were up 140%. And, in the Social and Influencer Lions, 35% of the winning work focused on brand activism.

Brands promoted change or provided solutions for causes as diverse as gun reform, racial prejudice, and pay equality in women’s football. While in the Social Development Goals Lions, one third of the entered work focused on Sustainability and Climate Change, up from a quarter in 2018, indicating that brands are getting more confident in challenging some of the toughest problems facing the world.

Consumers, like Lions juries, won’t be impressed by purposeful work if the brand behind it hasn’t truly committed to the cause. Truly standing up for something means setting sales aside – for a moment at least – and focusing on the cause at hand. In the Glass Lions, of the work entered into the 'Social Impact' category, over 50 entries focused on Raising Awareness, while 48 entries featured Brand Activism.

Going forward, brands should be more generous, both with their wallets and platforms. In both the Glass Lions for Change and the Sustainable Development Goals Lions, social media played a huge role in the entered work. In the SDG Lions specifically, 158 entries used social platforms and 119 harnessed the power of digital in some form. This shows that big change can be made through online channels, so every brand can participate.

To discover more insights and content on this theme, watch this selection of films On Demand on Cannes Lions Live.