‘Creativity can help save the walruses’. A curious choice of title for what was one of the most insightful talks I had the privilege of attending at this year’s International Festival of Creativity in Cannes.

Led by Alan Jope, Unilever – CEO, the session highlighted how our world is facing increasing challenges and how consumers are expecting businesses to address them. Jope highlighted how many companies are engaging in ‘woke-washing’ – where on the surface brands appear to be trying to make the world a better place however, in reality, are carrying on as before. “Purpose-led brand communications is not just a matter of ‘make them cry, make them buy’. It’s about action in the world.” Jope pointed out how consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their purchasing decisions. For example, the recent Trust Barometer report from Edelman showed that just 34% of people trust the brands they buy.

Jope called out brands who continue to pursue this trend of woke-washing and that we, as an industry, need to hold each other to account more; adding that Unilever refuses to work with brands that do not have a purpose. Just last year, for example, Unilever threatened to withdraw its advertising from online platforms such as Facebook and Google if they fail to eradicate content that creates division in society.

‘The Big Debate’, hosted by The Economist, also pointed out that purpose seemed to be the buzzword of the festival this year. The debate focused on the value of brand purpose and whether consumers continue to perceive ‘for-purpose’ campaigns as a benefit to the world, or as just another ruthless sales tactic. The Edelman’s Trust Barometer report showed that 56% of respondents said that too many brands were using societal issues as a marketing ploy proving that, to Jope’s point, brands need to have a purpose at the core of their business and maintain this beyond just another short-term campaign activation.

Livia Firth, Eco-Age – Co-Founder and Creative Director shared a recent example relating to H&M. The brand champion themselves as the first major retailer of scale to publish the names of its suppliers in a bid to transform the fashion industry and make it more sustainable with their ‘Conscious collection’. The brand has been criticised, however, by the Norwegian Consumer Authority (CA) for not making it clear or specific enough in explaining how the products in their Conscious collection are more sustainable than their other products. As such, the CA believe that H&M is giving consumers the impression that these products are more sustainable than they actually are.

The book launch of PHD’s Overthrow II explored a number of brands and their purpose, and how they have adopted a challenger mindset to drive more ambitious growth. John Schoolcraft, Oatly – Global Chief Creative Officer, discussed how their brand doesn’t have a marketing department.  Instead, they choose to invest time into areas where they can best serve the business, as opposed to wasting time on various rounds of briefings and approvals. With the creative department at the centre of the business, Oatly is able to act “consistently inconsistent”; something which is exemplified in their playful advertising, often on the packaging of their products which Schoolcraft called out as their main media channel. It’s working too – whilst Oatly sales continue to soar, demand is outdoing supply with four new factories being built around the world.

Overthrow 2 Book Launch Cannes 2019

Whilst having a brand purpose may not necessarily be new-news, the festival highlighted the importance of authenticity and the need for purpose to be woven into every element of the brand; especially with the younger generation who are very much aware that they are being marketed to.

Otherwise to quote John Schoolcraft – “We’re all totally f**ked.”


Gaby Daniels – Media Manager