From a trade mark to a change mark

The Cannes Lions Festival, most important advertising festival in the world is preparing for the great challenges of 2020, including a critical analysis of the ‘purposing‘ that has become one of the many marketing activities for many brands to respond to the relentless demand from consumers of taking responsibility for major environmental and social problems. Thus the Ascential press office announces that in the 2010 edition “the world’s largest brands and agencies will discuss how they deal with global critical issues, from climate change to inequality” and call the topic “Post-Purpose”: after the post-modern ‘post-human’ and ‘post-truth’ also ‘purpose’ is outdated. Results count. Yes, because if it is not yet clear, there is a difference between purpose campaigns and business with purpose : “Purpose brands do not campaign, they create movement”  said Valerie Hernando Press (Chief Marketing Officier at Danone ) at the last edition of the Cannes Lions presenting the projects carried out by Danone within the ‘One planet one Health’ program.

The concept is quite simple. ‘Brand activism’ can be defined as  participatory activation of corporations in social action. But its realization is not obvious. An epochal change should be foreseen which, if fully realized, would describe a new role of ‘legal persons’, subjects who, in addition to having the same rights, would also potentially have the same conscience as ‘natural persons’ . And therefore the same possibility of being the engine of action. Activism according to the Cambridge Dictionary, means

the use of  direct  and  noticeable action  to  achieve  a  result , usually a  political  or  social  one 

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In short, we return to the results. Or rather we start from the results. And it is a great revolution that could be carried out before our eyes. Raj Patel in his ‘The value of nothing‘ to allow sustainable policies to take off called for juridical (or ‘artificial’) people – public and private – to be rethought. “But the losses caused by the abandonment of old habits will be more than offset by the new ones”

To explain his point of view, he proposed an episode [1]in the history of US law in which being a ‘legal person’ for companies actually meant being able to trample on the rights of ‘natural persons’. In 1994, Vermont voters asked to know if the milk they consumed contained growth hormone (rBST) banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and partly in Europe but widely used in the United States. To answer this request, the Vermont legislators passed a law in April 1994 that required the specification on the rBST on the label. Six non-profit companies, all created, financed and directed by corporations, sued the State of Vermont claiming the rights to the First Amendment thus obtaining the annulment of the labeling law. “The state of Vermont cannot force companies to “speak out against their will ” [2] it was written in the final decision. The rights of companies or ‘legal persons’ were in fact assimilated to the rights of the customers, or natural persons, and the constitutional guarantees of the first amendment for ‘legal persons’ actually ended up annulling the same right to ‘natural persons’.

But what we are witnessing  today is a great opportunity, in which the individual responsibility of the legal person could mean making it part of an ecosystem, making the same commitments, conducting the same battles alongside the ‘natural people’.

This is perhaps the point of view of David Droga, president of the SDGs category jury at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival this year, when he says: “Brands are citiziens as well”. 

If brands are citizens themselves,  “brands can act as true activists” (in the words of Valerie Hernando Press).


[2] “the State of Vermont to compel the dairy manufacturers to speak against their will.”

Author: elena grinta

I have been dealing with communication for 20 years, I have worked in marketing for large international and Italian companies and I know the mechanisms of advertising persuasion. I decided to invest my know-how and my skills to use the available resources of companies (budgets but also human capital) in positive transformation. Because to students from all over the world I teach at Purpose Brands in Catholic University I wish to give more and more examples of virtuous companies that have invested for the future, of everyone (and there are already many!). Because if we watch, without acting, without taking responsibility, we have no excuse.