“I think that it is absolutely indisputable that customers are asking for brands to have vision and to have purpose and to stand for more than just making something pretty,” says Clare Press, sustainability editor-at-large at Vogue Australia and author of the book Rise & Resist, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent.
This new wave of brand activism is backed by the fact there is plenty of evidence younger consumers are the most socially-engaged generation we’ve seen, she explains. The fight for social and political justice that is happening around the world, is feeding into a demanding for more from the goods and services they consume. “They’re looking for brands to represent something that strikes a chord with them, and that is meaningful to them,” she adds.
We haven’t seen consumer restlessness in as big a way as we’re seeing right now since the 1960s, she explains. But addressing that as brands, also comes with balance.
Numerous businesses have stepped into this space – Gucci for instance made headlines when it donated money to March For Our Lives, and the gun control movement in the US, in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Meanwhile Patagonia announced it is donating all of the $10m it saved from a tax cut in the Trump presidency towards environmental protection groups. But that only works when it’s authentic, Press notes.
“Customers can see when they’re being green washed; when things completely lack integrity, and it can backfire. Let’s not pretend that brands aren’t in the business of making money. Of course, they are. However, if we can use that in order to also try to do some good, well, doing good business, I think that’s a valid thing.”
Press’ role at Vogue Australia is the first dedicated to sustainability in any of the Vogue titles worldwide. It comes at a time when the industry is increasingly focused on making sustainability and purpose a long-term business imperative, which ties to her mission to continue driving momentum in this space. It’s on that basis she believes everything from climate change to gender equality, modern slavery and more are intertwined.
In conversation with TheCurrent’s Rachel Arthur, she explores exactly what that means, talks about the importance of every individual voice in the supply chain, and reveals just what feminism really has to do with fashion.
“The clean beauty revolution is the next big thing that’s going to hit this industry,” says Amanda Baldwin, president of suncare brand, Supergoop!, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.
Speaking to Liz Bacelar, she explains that from day one, Supergoop has maintained a singular focus: convincing people to wear sunscreen every day by making it with the cleanest ingredients possible. After 11 years in business, the company is at the forefront of a huge shift in the industry.
Founder Holly Thaggard, created Supergoop after her friend was diagnosed with skin cancer, making it her mission to develop products that would convince people to wear SPF every day.
But this purpose is more than just the core of the products, Baldwin says, it’s also the main reason people want to work there. “We just surveyed to ask what’s making people excited about being our employees and the number one reason was the mission of the company.”
According to Baldwin, working in a company as mission-driven as Supergoop makes every decision easier for the team. “When you’re faced with some decision, it comes down to: does this help people wear SPF every single day? If the reason is yes, we should do it, if the answer is no, we don’t.”
Supergoop’s staff is cognizant of its deep sense of responsibility, especially at a time when more people are becoming aware of the ingredients in the products they consume. This is the edge of what Baldwin’s call the clean revolution. “Once you start reading labels, you can never go back. And I think that consumers should be able to trust brands to have done their research and to have done their work.”
In this episode, Baldwin also talks about how food trends can tell us what to expect from the beauty industry, the importance of learning from other people in order to create a successful company, and how to commit to being clean and cruelty-free without compromising the process.
Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.
At this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the most awarded campaigns echoed the sentiment that consumers want to engage with brands with a higher sense of purpose.
Sustainability and the environment came out top in that regard, with two initiatives scooping five of the top prizes. But other concepts continued a broader marketing focus particularly relevant to those in the consumer retail fields, from playing with the rules of what conventional advertising looks like, to evolving the notion of online and offline commerce in new ways.
Here, we highlight the ones to know from this year’s festival:
The small nation of Palau took home not one, but three Grand Prix awards (Direct, Sustainable Development Goals and Titanium), for Palau Pledge, for instance, a campaign that asked tourists visiting the Pacific Island to sign a pledge to protect its environment. Those arriving in the country now have their passports stamped with a pledge to be considerate of the environment they are visiting. The campaign extends further with a video playing on every flight arriving, and the nation’s Ministry of Education creating a program to educate their children on sustainability.
Meanwhile, Trash Isles, a campaign partnership between Plastic Oceans (a plastics pollution organization) and media company LADbible, also took home two of this year’s top awards – the Grand Prix for PR and for Design. It did so for its aim to highlight the problem of plastics in the ocean by registering the patch of trash as its own country, including a flag, (recycled) passport and currency, and then taking the concept to the United Nations.
The idea was that as soon as the area was registered as a country, people would start taking the problem seriously. Within the first week the country had 100,000 people signed up to become citizens, making it the 26th smallest country in the world – honorary citizens include former US Vice President, Al Gore, and Dame Judi Dench.
This notion of purpose and sustainability also trickled down to fashion where Lacoste won a Gold award in the Design category for the way in which it played with its iconic logo in a bid to help raise awareness about species’ conversation. The limited edition “Save our Species” collection it created, saw the crocodile logo it is known for replaced with 10 of the world’s most endangered creatures. To add a level of urgency, the number of polo shirts available for each species corresponded to the number of them known to remain in the wild.
Rewriting the rules
The second trend this year came from brands challenging public perception of what is known about them – from remixing their visual identity, to speaking to such niche audiences that they risked alienating a majority.
Nike has particularly played in that field by tapping into niche cultures with its Nothing Beats a Londoner campaign, which took home a Grand Prix in the awards’ new category, Social & Influencer. This initiative honed in on London youth culture with an energetic spot that pays homage to urban living, highlighting how challenging it is to practice sports in the city. The campaign was well received as an anthem to young brand fans who recognized many of the 258 athletes and influencers featured in the full three-minute piece.
Meanwhile, Diesel’s Deisel launch, which popped up in New York’s Chinatown with a series of real ‘fake’ goods, took home Gold in the Outdoor category. The campaign showcased the brand’s sense of humor, which has been a part of its DNA since its inception, while modernizing it for a younger generation who is keen to tap into irony and subversion.
The Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang season two launch was also noted by the way it took inspiration from underground culture to create a shopping chatbot, in doing so taking home Bronze in another new category at this year’s awards – Creative E-Commerce. Consumers had to text a number found on billboards across the city to begin communications with the bot and complete their purchase. Items were then home delivered by bike couriers wearing the collection head-to-toe. The idea of bootlegging retail follows on from the collaboration’s season one launch, in which shoppers could only purchase items off the back of a truck, and then carried them home in trash bags.
As retail giants including Amazon and Alibaba set the benchmark for what a good retail experience is, this year’s winners from Cannes also brought differentiation by navigating between creating learning experiences in brick-and-mortar, to playing up to the consumer’s digital nature.
The Creative E-Commerce category inevitably also brought relevancy here, with Xbox taking home the Grand Prix for its “The Fanchise Model” project, a store that allowed gaming fans to not only design and buy their own controllers, but earn commission through subsequent sales to their peers. Users who customized their own controller could claim ownership of it and share their artwork on social channels and forums. By co-creating with consumers, the brand encouraged a sense of ownership and opened up the conversation to a much bigger story that spoke to their fans’ lifestyles.
Nike’s AR Jordan launch on Snapchat otherwise picked up a Gold in this new category. The campaign, in which fans could purchase limited edition sneakers on Snapchat and get them delivered in under two hours, reached 2.7 unique users and 9.7m lens views, according to agency R/GA. The activation featured four major elements: augmented reality through the Snapchat partnership, 3D modelling of Michael Jordan, mobile commerce and lastly, express delivery fulfilled by Darkstore. Together, they created a fleeting experience that saw the sneakers sell out in 23 minutes.
Other notable Grand Prix winners highlighted the power of artificial intelligence and the use of data to spread a bigger message. Creative Data winner “JFK Unsilenced” by The Times UK, analyzed 831 speeches by the former USA president to create a AI-powered speech 50 years after he was due to talk at an event before getting killed in Dallas, Texas.
Unlike public perception and debate about the threat of AI to humankind, it is quickly becoming clear that for advertising, the technology is more friend than foe. As the majority of this year’s winners show, deploying technologies can only serve to enhance connections, and often add an additional layer of emotion between brand and viewer.
Pivotal societal movements from gender equality and diversity to environmental sustainability, have been a part of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for many years, but there was a greater sense of urgency and action tied to their delivery for 2018.
Beyond the talk
It’s all too easy to step on stage – onto the influential platform that Cannes Lions represents – and talk about a need for change. A need for the industry to be more inclusive, to represent women in positive roles or to bring about a sense of brand purpose that will shift mindsets across consumer groups at large. But it’s another thing altogether to really put that into action.
In a panel focused on female empowerment, Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, said the reason we’re still talking about the same old things is because of the fact progress is frustratingly slow. In a recent review of 40,000 ads, for instance, 29% negatively or inaccurately portrayed women in some way due to objectification, stereotyping or some kind of diminished role.
The landscape is changing, he said, but not fast enough. “There are some good examples, and we should feel good about that, but we know it’s not enough. I am optimistic however. We are getting close to that tipping point. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements changed the narrative forever. So let’s double down, and come together to be agents of change to achieve gender equality in the creative world.”
What’s key to driving this, he said, is seeing equality behind the camera, and throughout the entire creative pipeline. We can’t expect equality in the creative output until we have equality in the creative input, he explained.
Pritchard further highlighted that getting this right is also impactful on business results. Gender equal ads perform 10% better in trust and equity ratings, and 26% higher in terms of sales growth, he noted.
Beyond the trend
Driving change or action was also applied to the diversity conversation this year. Much like with gender equality, the focus here was on getting to the point of not needing to discuss it as a key subject at such an event anymore.
Said Edward Enninful, British Vogue’s editor-in-chief: “For the future, I want to see the marginalized, normalized… I don’t think we’re doing enough, but we’re all here doing our best. It will never be done until we’re not having this conversation anymore, until we’re not talking about diversity.”
Supermodel Naomi Campbell suggested that we’re currently at crunch time as to whether this diversity “trend” has sticking power. It’s got to be more than just a hot topic, she noted.
In an interview that dove into how she spent her early career being paid significantly less than her white counterparts, she explained: “I’m giving diversity another six months to see if it’s a trend, or something that’s here to stay and really change.”
Indeed, when something is deemed merely a trend, there’s also risk for brands of being perceived as jumping on the bandwagon should there not be authenticity in their approach. Having “brand purpose” or brands that “stand for something” are fellow trendy phrases, but it’s only through longstanding values that any such focus can ever ring true, speakers agreed.
The current era is a battle for truth, which is what’s placing trust at an all-time low for consumers, explained Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, which publishes the annual Trust Barometer. “The idea for big brands has to be how do we become part of this ecosystem pushing change? Beyond the idea of purpose is the notion that somehow we’re relevant, and pushing for better,” he commented.
Patagonia hit the stage with an exploration of its ongoing focus on the environment and active support of a better planet, on that note. That wasn’t something that happened overnight however, but a program of belief in the company established over a 20-year period, the brand’s European marketing director, Alex Weller, explained.
What’s key right now, he said however, is that consumers want to take action themselves. “In what increasingly feels like a stormy world, people are looking for hope. They’re looking for it in grassroots organizations, and increasingly in brands…. People are asking what can I do, how can I help, how can I take action.”
What the team realized was that if it really wanted to scale the movement, it needed to get out of the way a bit. “That bottleneck was us,” Weller said. The Patagonia Action Works platform, a microsite intended to facilitate interactions between like-minded activists, was the resulting initiative. “The end goal is that we and our community get to participate in things we care about to actually take action. To go from giving a shit to actually doing something,” he explained.
Once again, proof lies in the pudding. Weller explained that Patagonia has been growing at between 15-20% year-on-year. “We believe there is correlation between our movement building and our commercial performance. And the more direct correlation is, that the more we grow, the more we can do,” he noted.
Gucci has launched Gucci Equilibrium, an online communications platform designed to connect “people, planet and purpose” and to bring positive change in order to secure our collective future.
The aim is to promote the label’s commitment to sustainability and transparency both to its customers as well as internally to its 13,000 employees, its suppliers and the wider Gucci family. Focusing on purpose, the site explains, is about demonstrating integrity.
“These are critical times when we can all play our part in helping to deliver on the UN Global Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement,” Gucci CEO Marco Bizarri told WWD. “The only way to do that is by bringing people together, sharing ideas, innovation and experiences. This is the objective we have set for Gucci Equilibrium.”
The name reportedly comes from a balance between the aesthetic of what the brand produces, with the ethics in which it believes. The launch is accordingly part of a 10-year sustainability plan announced by the brand, which will be anchored in three pillars: environment, people and innovation.
“Environment” sees Gucci setting the target to guarantee the traceability of 95% of its raw materials, as well as the recent announcement it is banning furs; “People” includes a series of empowerment and diversity campaigns and social initiatives; and “Innovation” focuses on scouting and incubating startups, an approach also seen with the launch of its ArtLab space.
Visiting the platform allows the user to learn more about each specific initiative Gucci is embarking on under each pillar. In doing so, the brand is providing a content platform not only to celebrate and promote its achievements, but ensure it is held accountable for its actions in-keeping with its newly announced purpose.
Gucci has also announced a company-wide program alongside encouraging staff to dedicate 1% of their working time to volunteering in local communities.
Given the way the world has changed over the past 12 months, it’s no surprise to see pieces of work that have something truly meaningful behind them walking away with the big prizes at this year’s Cannes Lions.
Where in 2016, we were all about new technologies and looking to the future, for 2017 it’s really been about what makes a statement, moves people, plays on human truths and ultimately initiates some kind of real impact. That’s not entirely new for the creative and advertising industry, of course, but it stood out more than ever against a backdrop of growing consumer uncertainty.
State Street Global Advisors’ Fearless Girl by McCann New York for instance was the big winner of the week. This bronze statue, which stands opposite Wall Street’s Charging Bull, launched on International Women’s Day (the first under President Trump) in a bid to prove that companies with strong female leadership perform better than their male-led counterparts. It won a huge four Grand Prix awards, praised for the fact it was “disruptive, irreverent and broke the mould”.
The Film Grand Prix meanwhile went to Channel 4’s We’re the Superhumans, while other Grand Prix awards touched on the environment, on traffic accidents, on refugees and on equal voting.
The Innovation Grand Prix winner also came under the impact header. Awarded to The Humanium Metal Initiative by Åkestam Holst for IM Swedish Development Partner, it is the world’s first supply chain distributing metal made from destructed illegal firearms. The aim is to promote weapon destruction programmes in affected regions and financial support to victims of armed violence.
The first commercial items from the initiative are due to launch in September this year, and will include all sorts of partnerships with a variety of brands, including those in the fashion industry by turning the metal into jewellery, buttons and more.
Elsewhere, there were other winners in the fashion industry too – albeit more traditional in their campaigns than as purpose driven as this year’s headliners. Notably Kenzo picked up a number of accolades for its My Mutant Brain ad, including two golds, three silvers and four bronzes across the Film, Film Craft, Cyber and Entertainment for Music categories, as well as a Titanium Lion.
Sport of course picked up multiple titles once more. Nike scored a huge 13 Lions just in the Film and Film Craft categories alone, while also winning in Digital Craft, Integrated, Entertainment for Music and Design.
It was its Unlimited Stadium campaign from BBH that picked up the highest number however, winning four golds, five silvers and six bronzes across Design, Cyber, Promo and Activation, Outdoor, Creative Data and Entertainment. Created to launch its Lunar Epic Mid shoe, this was an interactive LED running track set up in the Philippines during the Olympics. It took the data of each runner on each lap, and turned it into a digital avatar they could then run against as they continued.
Head to head came Adidas of course, which picked up a Grand Prix for its Original is Never Finished campaign in the Entertainment for Music category, as well as three further bronzes for the same ad. Other accolades went to its Alexander Wang collaboration launch, its Adidas Odds initiative for the Paralympics and its Adidas Neo Snapchat campaign. Green Light Run, which enabled urban running in Tokyo, picked up four awards, and Breaking the Pattern with Adidas Glitch, which launched a football boot exclusively through a dedicated mobile app, collected five.
The North Face, Converse, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Under Armour also scooped awards, while others went to Amazon for its Tokyo Fashion Week opening, Marks & Spencer for its Mrs Claus film, Diesel for its Make Love Not Walls campaign and to Harvey Nichols and Havaianas for various efforts in print and publishing.
If we count Snap Inc’s Spectacles under the header of “wearables” then they also did a sterling job at the awards this year – picking up three golds across Design and Product Design, and silver and bronzes in Mobile.
And then there’s Ikea, as pictured top. Not a fashion retailer per se, but it took full advantage of a connection with luxury when Balenciaga sent out a blue bag on the runway earlier this year; one that looked distinctly similar to its own plastic carry-all it offers to shoppers.
The brand jumped on the social media conversation that was flowing around it, launching a campaign that helped consumers identify a “real FRAKTA bag”, which instantly went viral. The results saw over 165 million media impressions amounting to over $6m in earned media against zero ad dollars spent. It won a silver in PR and bronze Lions in Direct and Promo and Activation.
There’s an air of creative conservatism in today’s fashion campaigns, with little or no meaning behind the majority of them, says Neil Simpson of The Corner. Using Jigsaw as a point of reference, he proves exactly why brands need to stand for something in order to stand out.
Step onto London’s Oxford Street at any time of the day, any time of the year, and it’s not just packed – it’s heaving. Heaving with people filling their hands with bags of high street fashion and cosmetics, and you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be back again in a couple of weeks for their next fix of retail therapy.
So much so, “Fast Fashion” has been the dominant system on the high street for around 15 years. Recognised names ruthlessly replicate catwalk fashion at speed and manipulate the high street with a relentless stream of low-cost fashion. As such, consumers are charged with a “Buy, Dispose, Repeat” mentality.
As one of the founders of The Corner, an independent advertising agency, I’m concerned with how this has left a very saturated – and very bland – advertising landscape. Fashion ads are increasingly conforming to a world that is disposable and homogeneous, and this has bred an air of creative conservatism across fashion campaigns. With little or no meaning behind them, the majority of ad campaigns become shop windows to introduce a new range – failing to provide the brand with the substance it needs to stand out in the fashion world.
In this digital age, it’s no longer enough to simply advertise product. Brands need a platform that brings the whole company together, integrates everything it does and stands for and, most importantly, creates a sense of purpose. This is exactly what we embedded into our creation of Jigsaw’s brand essence, “Style and Truth”. This core idea now provides the basis for everything from a new collection to a window or collaboration, as well as Jigsaw’s ad campaigns.
Style and Truth is based on quality and permanence in the face of superficiality, speed and short-terms – something human, contemporary and provocative that empowers people not to follow the herd, but to instead discover their own style. And there doesn’t have to be fireworks, rainbows and unicorns either. Simplicity is the very spirit of style – and no matter the newest fad, trend or seasonal craze, style is perpetual.
Style is also very personal. But how can brands promote such a personal message? By encouraging controversial thinking. Our launch of Style and Truth displayed bold and oxymoronic visuals, which defiantly went against typical fashion slogans. Regardless of what’s ‘in’ or what’s ‘back’, Jigsaw is challenging the fashion stereotypes and standing out.
This in turn set the scene for Jigsaw’s “For Life Not Landfill” campaign, which championed the durability of quality, ethically sourced statement pieces. Likewise, with our most recent “Lived Not Modelled” campaign – during the initial brainstorms we thought if the clothes are worn in normal situations, in contrast to the glamourous Monaco poolside shots everyone expects, it would permit freedom for the models to freestyle on the shoot. The result was an authentic and refreshing final piece of work.
“Following fashion” is the very phrase fashion brands need to get away from in order to truly define themselves. Feeding this mindset into Jigsaw’s recent advertising campaigns has helped The Corner portray a unique style that the brand’s customers can identify with.
Fashion brands must stand for something, in their advertising campaigns and beyond, or else risk fading into the crowd.
Neil Simpson is the founder of independent advertising agency, The Corner. Comment Counts is a series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.