7 Lessons From Cannes Lions 2018 on How Brands Stand Out With Purpose

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Companies continue to follow the expanding trend towards purposeful branding. With the overwhelming amount of content - be it online, on television, print or out of home media - today’s consumers are bombarded with advertisements. By leveraging your brand to make a measurable social impact, combined with meaningful storytelling you can build consumer trust and goodwill.

While purpose is paramount for brands to stay relevant, it is increasingly difficult to stand out among other brands who are also investing in their impact and image.

This year’s Cannes Lions The Glass: Lion For Change Shortlist finalists demonstrate innovative and unique ways of addressing sensitive and pertinent social issues while building their brand.

Here are 7 lessons on standing out when competing on purpose

  1. Utilize data to join cultural conversations: Data is critical to making informed decisions, be it business strategy, marketing angles, or purposeful branded social impact. Combining analytics with emotionally resonate storytelling is an excellent way to touch on relevant cultural issues.

Axe, in partnership with nonprofit Promundo, did a great job marrying data driven insights with emotionally resonance in the #IsItOkForGuys campaign. In these spots, Axe addressed frequently searched for questions that start with “is it ok for guys.” Many men are conditioned to accept characteristics that define “how a real man should behave.” This spot verifies that it is perfectly acceptable for men to be comfortable with vulnerability, emotions and femininity. By addressing real consumer concerns, Axe is able to join the conversation about breaking cultural stereotypes. Axe’s social commentary caught consumer attention, with the spot gaining “1.3 billion media impressions in the first 2 weeks.”.

Ultimately, consumer data can shed light on what people care about and can pave the way for meaningful storytelling.

  1. Leverage technology to shift consumer behavior: Habits are formed because of convenience and comfort. By increasing awareness about pressing cultural issues, while simultaneously equipping consumers with the tools they need to make change convenient, you can distinguish your brand as a social innovator.

An excellent example of an initiative that uses technology to increase awareness and shift behavior is the SheBoard - Raised by words project. The spot points out how words influence the way we form and shape our thoughts and beliefs. Therefore, by adopting a new vocabulary, we can change our habits. The SheBoard is a predictive keyboard that provides word suggestions focused on celebrating female leadership, independence and creativity. It’s “a keyboard that boosts girls’ confidence.” The spot touches upon the fact that we speak to and about girls differently than we speak about boys. The SheBoard gives consumers the technological tools they need to separate from the lexicon that forms gender stereotypes.

By utilizing innovative technology to make it easier for people to have ideas that support a more inclusive and supportive world, you can display your unique approach to problem solving and join a cultural movement in a meaningful way.

  1. Embrace human storytelling to deepen emotional resonance: While what you say is important, when it comes to making a memorable impression in a short amount of time, how you say it is equally critical. Personal storytelling is a powerful way to bring consumers up close and personal to hard to talk about issues that.

UNICEF did an excellent job portraying the atrocities associated with child marriage in “The Worst Soap Opera” campaign. In this heart wrenching commercial series, a 14 year old girl is given up to a man in his 50s in an arranged marriage. Without consent, the girl is forced to serve the older man, who eventually kicks her out for not cleaning his shirt the way he likes it. The girl returns to her mother, only to be turned away for not serving the man well enough. Each spot includes a stat on how child marriage increases, not decreases, poverty and tears apart lives.

The lesson here is that human scale storytelling is vital to building empathy in consumers, especially when it relates to connecting people with a difficult to

talk about issue.

  1. Utilize media outlets for social messaging: If your brand is in the media spotlight, you can amplify the reach of earned media by highlighting pressing social issues and how they relate to your brand ethos. What’s more, you can generate media exposure by focusing your brand on social impact.

An excellent example of a group amplifying social impact messaging via a preexisting media focusing event happened during the Latina Television Miss Peru beauty pageant. Instead of stating the physical measurements of their bust and waist size, models presented statistics about physical, sexual and emotional abuse against women in their country. By utilizing the media attention already present during the beauty pagent, Latina Television and the models were able to scale the reach of messaging about difficult yet pertinent issues impacting Peru.


The key takeaway is that if you find yourself in the media spotlight, think about it as an opportunity to promote your social impact agenda, which can also award you with more earned media.

  1. Combine real world initiatives with marketing strategy: While heartwarming story telling about social issues can attract consumer goodwill, brands must take measurable action to develop authenticity and build consumer trust.

An example of a brand that connected its product messaging with its social impact is StayFree (a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary). The brand’s Indian segment asked women if how they felt about their period and most said it was inconvenient. They then asked sex workers, who said that they enjoyed their periods because it gave them welcome time off. Via the Project Free Period, StayFree created a program to provide women with skills such as beautification, candle making and other crafts. This program celebrated periods and focused on providing sex workers with alternative livelihoods.

Essentially, uniting your product with a social issue then taking it a step further by getting involved in social action on the ground is an excellent way to walk your talk and stand out from the competition.

  1. Develop social experiments: Social experiments are excellent ways to shed light on relevant social issues while positioning your brand as a critical contributor to cultural conversations.

A great example of a campaign that combined a social experiment with brand communications and a social issue is Schweppes’ The Dress For Respect initiative. To highlight the harassment against women and increase awareness about this global problem, Schweppes (a Coca-Cola brand) created 3 dresses with digital sensors that lit up every time the person wearing it was touched. The dresses provided real time data on when women received unwanted touch while they were out at dance clubs. This initiative is an innovative approach to tell the story of women’s harassment and positions the Schweppes brand as part of the larger cultural conversation.

The key takeaway is that conducting social experiments that add to cultural dialogue about national or local issues is an excellent way to be relevant and contribute to the larger discourse.

  1. Champion political activism: While taking a political stand can pose the risk of alienating some consumers, if done right it can give your brand a rallying cry and present purposeful storytelling potential.

An example of a brand that combined political activism with on brand purpose-driven messaging is Tesco Tampons. The feminine product line’s Tampons Tax Off campaign focuses on removing the 5% tampon tax imposed on British shoppers.“Women have to buy sanitary products, but they shouldn’t have to pay the 5% Tampon Tax,” Tesco argues. To back up their claim, Tesco knocked off 5 percent from the price of tampons and is supporting policy reform.

The lesson is that pairing your product and branded storytelling with a relevant political issue is an effective way of building momentum around a brand-fueled movement and standing out from the competition.

Purpose is becoming an increasingly competitive and crowded space for brands as more companies apply their values to pressing cultural issues. Brands must develop innovative, relevant and impactful social good campaigns to distinguish themselves from the competition. To stand out and have a real impact it’s essential to make partnerships that can authenticate your cause marketing initiatives and scale the impact of your brand. Additionally, it’s paramount to lead meaningful cultural conversations, to make measurable contributions, and to be part of social movements that go beyond your brand or industry.