From A Trade Mark To A Change Mark

The 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to inequality” and call the topic “Post-Purpose”: after the post-modern ‘post-human’ and ‘post-truth’ also ‘purpose’ is outdated.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 

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 things’ 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 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).

But creating a movement through the brand is possible only when the people in the company, starting with the CEO, are involved in that cause. I tell you the story of a rather well-known journalist who has become a very successful entrepreneur, with a great purpose. I’m talking about Henk Jan, CEO of Tony’s Chocolonely, awarded the title of marketer of the year in 2017; not even he expected much success from a company born of a journalistic report. It all started in 2003 when during a documentary for Dutch television he discovered that most of the cocoa used by the big corporations was collected by exploiting child labor and investigating the main operating brands in the cocoa industry, he realized that he had touched one of the points industry pains. This is how the first chocolate slave free was born. 15,000 indignant consumers booked the chocolate bars in advance so the whole supply was sold in a day. After 10 years, the company had a turnover of € 9.6 million, so in 2015 it opened its first international office in the United States. To ensure that the chocolate they were buying was slave free, the company entered into an agreement to directly buy the cocoa beans from the farmers by paying them a figure 25% higher than the average so that they could fight against the slavery of children. In 2017/2018, Tony’s Chocolonely recorded sales of around 55 million euros.

Here’s what business with purpose means : the founders started this adventure to meet the goal that the company still has today: freeing the chocolate sector from slavery

Their motto is “Crazy About chocolate Serious about People” and to give words a feedback with facts Tony’s followed a road map in three steps:

  • Create awareness – since 2005, in particular for consumers and retailers to be aware of the existing inequalities in the cocoa sector
  • Lead by example  – from 2012, try to show the other players of the industry that you could have commercial success without exploiting child labor
  • inspire to Act  – today, finding partners within the Industry but also politicians, non-governmental organizations and scientists to work together towards change

So here we are: a true brand activist , born to change the status quo, he never gave up his initial mission, which was the engine of his commercial success.

Not surprisingly, Tony’s is a B Corp [3] , a company that voluntarily undertakes to achieve and maintain certain environmental and social performances and is committed to Stakeholders, rather than to shareholders.

On the other hand, it is surprising that Danone, the French food giant, has decided to undergo the same certification, considering that  Danone is listed on the stock exchange  and that failure to achieve this goal could have negative repercussions on the company, adding only “paperwork and unnecessary restrictions” [4] . And instead the CEO Emmanuel Faber has announced to want to reach the necessary parameters to the certification and to become a B Corp within 2030 , after that also Danone North America – the eighth branch of Danone (and the largest) – has become a B Corporation certified.

A danger that is worth running, Faber said, because ” certification has received great support from employees and has won over skeptical investors” [5] , as well as having instilled confidence in the banks, which they renegotiated at a lower loan of two billion euros [6] .

Emmanuel Faber fully embodies the role of the corporate activist , when he declares that he wants to be a promoter of a “Food Revolution” [7] and urges the industry to join a “movement” that aims to “the adoption of healthier products and of sustainable eating habits ” [8] .

” Food sovereignty  for us means giving up control and restoring power to people, and how credible would we be to tell our consumers if we didn’t start with our employees?” [9] , Faber asks.

Welcome To The H2H Era!

To be credible as a ‘brand activist’, all stakeholders, starting with employees, should embody the values ​​of the company and its ideology. “The purpose can become marginal if you don’t work at it. Therefore, it is essential to give people the responsibility to make the brand responsible for its goals and philosophy. ” [10]

The new era of ‘people powered brands’ is no longer just a consumer at the center program, but a paradigmatic transformation from Business-to-Consumer to Human-to-Human (from B2C to H2H).

Here’s how the ‘legal person’ can become a ‘natural person’: through the hundreds of faces, personalities, dreams that constitute the ‘workforce’ of every business reality. Bryan Kramer, who first used the expression H2H, says  Businesses do not have emotion. People do. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. People want to feel something. People want to be included . ” [11] It is not just a ‘social media’ strategy [12] where it is sufficient to show the team behind the product and the magic is done. No. All human resources must be involved and treated as Resources, and Humans. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is investing huge budgets in campaigns to activate your customers and not invest effectively in internal communication, making little effort to tell your story and your progress within the company. Showing the social impact that the company is having can be highly effective when it is measurable and closely linked to the company’s operations.

For Tony’s Chocolonley the road is a clear path, and the communication of the results achieved is effective, starting from their trustworthy [13] (because verified by different agencies) and funny sustainability report (yes, I really wrote funny ) of which I quote just one of the many choices and results:

“We could have chosen the path of least resistance. We could have just said “our chocolate is 100% slave free, pinky promised.” We could have started our own fully controlled farm. But we did none of the above. Why? Because of ab-so-lute-ly nothing would have changed for the 2.5 million exploited farmers and their families in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Zip, zilch, nada.” [14]

No doubt arises, after reading the 69 pages of reports that Tony’s is ” an impact organization that sells chocolate and is trying to change the chocolate industry from within.” [15]

Indeed, one wonders how the big players of the cocoa industry can ignore the appeal of this exceptional (because it represents an exception) company to ‘copy’ their model: “We have not convinced any large company in the industry to copy our game rules. We note that interest is on the rise, but as of 1 October 2018 we have not yet seen any ‘white smoke’ [16] .

We hope that Danone, once he has obtained the B Lab certification, will promote – as  Tony’s did – a 360 ° sustainable revolution, setting the pace for the other players, perhaps starting from the plastic issue. Perhaps then they will think twice about launching “innovative products” like Eletrolytes Evian for millennials [17] or Mickey Mouse water for children promoted with campaigns like the one in the picture. The oceans will be thankful.



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

[3] a certification spread in 71 countries and 150 different sectors, issued to companies by  B Lab , an   international non-profit organization.


Danone North America is Danone’s 8th subsidiary to become a Certified B Corporation. Some critics say that filing as a B adds unnecessary paperwork and restrictions. But for brands looking to connect with growing consumers, B Corp’s status establishes integrity and builds consumer goodwill.


[5] all-the-societa-only-only -for-the-shareholders /







[9] The whole concept behind food sovereignty is for us to surrender control and give the power back to people, and how credible would it be to say to our consumers if we don’t start with our employees? ”



[12] The Value of Getting Personal on Social Media


[13] Disclaimer: this is not fake news! We’ve thoroughly checked all the facts and all of them from reliable, independent sources. These include the Global Slavery Index, Tulane University, True Price and the Cocoa Barometer, which monitors the state of affairs in chocolate land every other year. And we’ve also asked PWC to assess the 12 non-financial key performance indicators. Want to know more about the facts? Give us a call or send us an email!

[14] .

[15] The chocolate industry from the inside is an organization that sells chocolate and is trying to change.

[16] We have not yet persuaded large players in the industry to copy our rules of the game. We can see that there is no white smoke yet, there is a lack of any figures reviewed by PwC.

[17] We re-ignited our evian brands in the US through the innovative #Iwanna campaign featuring Maria Sharapova, Madison Keys, Luka Sabbat and many inspiring micro-influencers across the country. Engagement was 20 times higher than traditional campaigns, reaching over 18 million consumers.

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.