From a Trademark to a Change Mark

The Cannes Lions Festival, the most important advertising festival in the world, Cannes Lions announces on March 18, 2020 that the annual Festival of Creativity will not take place in June as previous planned, due to coronavirus emergency. They are for sure 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 announced 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 called the topic “post-purpose” (inspired by the terms post-modern, post-human, and post-truth) rather than use the outdate word purpose. Results count.

If it is not yet clear, there is in fact 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 2019 Cannes Lions Festival as she was 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.”

Read also: How to Become a Brand Activist. Follow the Example of Tony’s Chocolonely.

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 book The Value of Nothing called for juridical (or “artificial”) people––public and private––to be rethought to allow sustainable policies to take off. “But the losses caused by the abandonment of old habits,” Patel explains, “will be more than offset by the new ones”

The value of Nothing Coverbook

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 whether the milk they consumed contained the growth hormone rBST,  which had been banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and partly in Europe but was (and still is) used in the US. To answer this request, the Vermont legislators passed a law in April 1994 that required the specification of 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. It was in the final decision, “the State of Vermont can’t compel the dairy manufacturers to speak against their will.” . In this case, the company (the legal persons) was given the same level of rights as the customers (the 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, and conducting the same battles alongside the natural people.

Read also: Welcome to the H2H Era! Danone as a B Corp.

This is perhaps the point of view of David Droga, president of the SDGs category jury at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival in 2019, when he said: “Brands are citizens as well.” 

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


Photo credits: “Sin título (ciencia ficción)”, 2007, 4 óleos sobre piel sintética de Marina Núñez

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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.