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Business as a Platform for Change

5 Award-Winning Brand Campaigns That Address Societal Issues in Meaningful Ways

These recent winners at Cannes Lions reinforce the powerful idea that business can create the changes we need in the world right now.

hot air balloon over a beach
Business is the greatest platform for change — and can help create a movement for good. [Malte Müeller / Getty]

Through the turmoil of the past few years, brands have increasingly started showcasing their values through their marketing. More people today align with companies that share their ethics and the research shows they will continue to support those brands — whether buying from them or working for them. 

That’s why I was so encouraged by what I saw in June at Cannes Lions, the annual creativity festival, where a number of winning campaigns embraced this ethos. 

Here at Salesforce, the notion of companies creating needed change in the world goes way back. The phrase “Business as a Platform for Change” has been one of our core values since Marc Benioff founded the company in 1999. Fifteen hundred global companies have adopted our 1:1:1 Model,  and we have committed to the Equal Pay Initiative, among many other things. 

With that, here are five campaigns leading the way, with takeaways you can apply to your own efforts. 

“Hope Reef” highlights sustainability

It may not at first seem obvious that a cat food company would care about a coral reef in Indonesia. But as a company that only uses sustainably sourced fish, it makes sense that Sheba is committed to protecting the oceans. This particular Indonesian reef nearly died — something becoming all too common as 50% of the world’s coral reefs have disappeared since the 1950s. Ninety percent face extinction in the next 20 years if nothing is done to preserve them. 

Coral reefs are sustainable havens for sea life, so Sheba, along with AMV BBDO, created the Hope Reef campaign. It built a nearly 115-foot-high protective reef with the letters H-O-P-E, which is visible by satellite view on Google Earth. In just two years, the original reef grew back from nearly 100% dead to 70% alive, fish populations grew by 300%, and coral coverage expanded by 6900%. The project’s success inspired other projects around the world and Sheba has committed to restore nearly 2 million square feet of coral reefs globally by 2029. 

Key takeaway: You can’t solve climate change on your own, but even one big bold step can have significant impact and inspire a ripple effect of wider change.

“Data Tienda” demonstrates equality and innovation

In the campaign, “Data Tienda,” WeCapital and DDB Mexico saw a need for women in Mexico to gain access to loans. The issue? Many didn’t have credit history other than taking loans from neighborhood mom-and-pop shops throughout the country. They devised a plan to help the 83% of Mexican women without access to a credit history to gain that by building a network tied to independent stores throughout Mexico. Data entered by the women was then communicated via bots to generate credit scores, allowing for women to apply for and receive small-business loans. 

The result: 23% of women in the platform have received microcredits from banks for businesses and more than 10,000 credit histories were generated from 50,000-plus shopkeepers. The campaign is helping to change lives. 

Key takeaway: When you use your ingenuity to create more pathways to success for more people, you not only create more equality; you also showcase your ability to innovate.

“The Unfiltered History Tour” calls out inequality while restoring trust through innovation

How often have you walked through a museum and thought how wonderful the art and artifacts were without really considering their origin? Vice Media teamed with Dentsu Creative in India to put a spotlight on the number of works located at London’s British Museum that had been taken by force hundreds of years ago. The result is the Unfiltered History Tour

Through augmented reality and immersive audio, the campaign features voices of people from the showcased artifacts’ countries of origin to tell the story. The social project touched many nerves, creating a deeply emotional experience for the creators and viewers. 

Key takeaway: You can help increase equality by improving our understanding of inequality, asking the unasked questions, and using technology to build more awareness and empathy. 

“The Breakaway” innovates to create equality and personal sustainability

Inmates don’t often have access to connect with the outside world in a supportive way. French-based sporting goods chain Decathlon worked with BBDO Belgium and Belgium’s Oudenaarde prison to change that. They created the world’s first prison-based e-cycling team. The prison team trained and competed on Zwift, a virtual platform, allowing for anonymity. It’s recounted in “The Breakaway.”

Other cyclists on the platform only knew they were riding against another person, letting the prisoners exercise and connect with people in the outside world. This led them to gain confidence and improve their mental wellbeing. After competing against the team on Zwift, Belgium’s minister of justice expanded the program to all of the country’s prisons. 

Key takeaway: Using your business as a platform for change isn’t just about your public positions on issues or charity work. Consider how your products can drive that change.

“Escape From the Office” captures innovation and employee experience

Since 2020, many companies have doubled down with a renewed focus on the experience of their employees. But not all companies have gotten on board. In order to inspire others, Apple sought to put a spotlight on the growing need for creating positive environments for employees. 

Following its hilarious, viral work-from-home short movie, Apple released “Escape From the Office,” working with film production company Smuggler. The clever nine-minute short teams the four coworkers from the previous movie. Now, it shows them hating working at their company, a seemingly oppressive work environment run by a controlling boss. On a whim, the team decides to quit the packaging company to start their own. They come up with a brilliant idea to invent a better shopping bag to eliminate double bagging. 

Their company explodes and their old boss invites them in to make them an offer they can’t refuse. Yet they do, and then we learn the sequence was a daydream. It turns into reality, starting their whole quitting adventure again.

Key takeaway: Campaigns can make a huge splash when they embrace humor.

Go here if you’d like to learn more about TeamEarth and what you and your company can do to inspire the changes we all need to see in the world. 

And to get inspired by other companies doing amazing work in the world check out:

How Engie, the French company specailzing in renewable energy, is creating a greener future

How furniture company Miller Knoll has built sustainability into its business

Paladina Health built a system of trust and resiliency for employees  

The Red Cross innovates new communication systems with volunteers and donors

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