The brand purpose hypocrisy at Cannes Lions

June 24, 2019

Some things you can see from only 1,700 miles away – like how the ad executives gathered at Cannes Lions last week talked a lot about brand purpose but completely ignored an actual opportunity to help the world.

I was unable to attend the festival, but I followed the proceedings from Tel Aviv by reading The Drum’s full coverage and obtaining in advance the prepared speeches and presentation decks of sessions that had piqued my curiosity.

‘Brand purpose’ was a popular topic. Maithreyi Jagannathan, P&G’s associate marketing director for healthcare, and Ajay Vikram, the chief creative officer of Publicis Singapore, discussed an ad campaign featuring a transgender Indian mother and a girl with a rare skin condition.

Jimmie Stone, Edelman’s chief creative officer for New York and Latin America, unveiled a five-step guide to building a brand with purpose. The Body Shop’s global head of activism, Jessie Macneil-Brown, joined a Unilever global sustainability lead, Dorothy Shaver, and Tony’s Chocolonely’s head of marketing, Pascal Van Ham, to talk about the future of brand activism.

Netflix writer and producer Kenya Barris, Wieden+Kennedy chief creative officer Colleen DeCourcy and TBWA chief executive officer Troy Ruhanen touched on brand activism in a hyper-charged society.

At AdConnect’s beach, the ACT Responsible association (Advertising Community Together) presented ‘tributes’ to the best in advertising around themes such as the environment.

No money where their mouths were

But see what happened when someone actually wanted to do something real about the environment. An activist group named Extinction Rebellion exposed the feel-good sentiments as utterly hypocritical.

The organisation – many of whose members are reportedly ad industry veterans – issued an open letter last month calling for marketers to use their communications expertise to prevent environmental disaster by fighting climate change on behalf of brands, driving sustainable efforts and cutting waste.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, Extinction Rebellion crashed Cannes Lions and demonstrated at Facebook’s beach the following day.

William Skeaping, a former creative strategist at McCann London and a reported prominent player in the organisation, had also been meeting festival attendees to persuade them to join its sustainability agenda.

The marketing elite at Cannes Lions had a real opportunity to help the world significantly. And what happened? Fourteen Extinction Rebellion activists were arrested. So much for putting their company dollars where their mouths were.

No one Skeaping met was reportedly interested. He tweeted: “Came hoping we could get the advertising industry to help tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency but now have a sinking feeling that we’re totally fucked.”

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