Beyond briefs, Cannes rethinks creativity and capitalism

Transformative ideas that leave a lasting impression don't often take root in the average client brief; they are born out of intentional creativity that goes beyond the channel or the immediate business problem, opines Ogilvy PR's chief creative officer.

And just like that, Cannes 2023 is over in a blur of rosè, AI chat, sunshine and sweaty queues for the best talks and events. While there was plenty of conversation about the… dare I say it… ‘Metaverse of 2023’ or generative AI, I was most drawn to ideas with a strong dose of ‘reimagining capitalism’ at the centre of them. By that, I mean smart, feel-good, transformative stuff that goes way beyond a message or a campaign and gets to the root of why businesses are in business –  and how we could better use creativity, communication and technology to regenerate planets, communities, healthcare systems and economies that need it most. A more intentional version of capitalism, with impact — not just profits— at the core. Concepts that reimagine capitalism as a tool for doing good, but still, happen to make bank in the process.

These ideas are unlikely to take root in the average client brief because they’re not just communications or campaign ideas. They come from thinking that looks way beyond channel or immediate business problems and sales figures. Thinking with social and environmental intention at the strategic core; with one eye focused on the big forces and issues shaping the world we operate in and one eye focused inward to challenge ‘how we’ve always done it’ norms. Work that’s measured in terms of impact, with revenue, engagement and fame built in as welcome byproducts.

For me, this kind of work is a great reminder to think beyond the brief, about the power of true creative collaborations that go way beyond campaign thinking, and holding to your convictions even when some might question your permission to stray from your lane. And there were three examples of this on full display at Cannes that reinforce this approach.

Firstly, Patagonia epitomises the idea of reimagining capitalism in a more deliberate and intentional way. Speaking to a packed crowd in the Debussy Theatre, Patagonia’s EMEA marketing director Tyler LaMotte delivered the festival’s LionHeart Seminar reflecting on 50 years of social capitalism from the brand and its ‘reluctant entrepreneur’ founder Yvon Chouinard. The seminar included a call to arms for us to shift from a consumer mindset to one of ownership. He argued that as owners —of purchases we invest in like houses, boats, and surfboards— we naturally take on a ‘care and repair’ responsibility, as opposed to a ‘consume and use’ approach.

Patagonia's marketing director Tyler LaMotte shares the strategies and initiatives that have positioned the brand as force in the fight for the planet

This ‘care and repair’ sensibility is a talk that Patagonia walks (and sometimes climbs). They repair over 200,000 products each year, including garments from competitors’ brands, delivering significant savings in water waste and carbon footprint. 

It’s a sensibility also perhaps best reflected in Chouinard’s reassigning the literal ownership of the organisation to the Earth in September last year, making our home planet its sole shareholder. They described it as ‘going purpose’ instead of ‘going public.’ Patagonia is still a for-profit business, pulling in well over $1 billion in sales annually, but the profits from that revenue will be reinvested as dividends to protect the planet in perpetuity. 

The Patagonia team is now looking to their next 50 years of adventure and activism with Chouinard as an employee instead of an owner, but they continue to be guided by his aspiration that business can be a tool for social change. It’s a philosophy that seems to motivate both customers and employees, with several creatives over the week in Cannes confessing they wanted to up sticks and get a job at Patagonia.

Moving from shareholdings to cervezas, Corona’s Extra Lime campaign is a refreshing regenerative commerce idea, three years in the making. The work is a partnership between AB InBev, Draftline Shanghai and David, Bogotá and was one of the few pieces of work highlighted in CMO Marcel Marcondes’ festival opening address as 'Creative Marketer of the Year'.

Corona Extra Lime campaign

Corona is, of course, best enjoyed with a slice of lime, a key product ritual and symbol. But the nation with the most beer drinkers in the world, China, also produces some of the lowest quality limes in the world. This isn’t only a business issue but a social one, given that many of the farmers growing these limes live in poverty.

So, Corona backed their beer business by getting into the lime business. They partnered with local farmers, agricultural experts and local government to improve the quality in farming techniques and help farmers expand their yields through a Corona-branded lime. This is a problem that could have more obviously been sold through importing limes from another region, but this would have had a more adverse environmental cost, not to mention the social and economic opportunity cost on the Anyue agricultural community. The result is an unexpected new made media channel for the brand, that sold two million limes in the first year and helped regenerate farming economies in Anyue, China. Farmer income increased by 21%, and AB InBev have announced their intention to double lime yields for 2024 and increase farmer per capita income by 30%.

Finally, we have an example from telecommunications, but maybe not the kind of CSR-wash you might expect from a typical telco. In a fireside discussion with WPP’s Mark Read and CEO of Canadian telco Telus Darren Entwhistle at the WPP beach, Entwhistle talked about the business of purpose. 

Yes, I can feel you rolling your eyes, another Cannes talk about purpose. But what really set this discussion apart was Entwhistle’s take on purpose being an engine to reinvent capitalism. According to Entwhistle purpose at Telus isn’t an adjunct to commerce or a mere side dish of philanthropy. It is core business. And, as with Patagonia, its core business in the billions.

Telus’ social impact venture capital fund the Pollinator Fund for Goodinvests in for-profit businesses with small everyday ambitions like, you know… fighting climate change, safeguarding food security and improving equity in healthcare. Businesses like Mycocycle, which teaches fungi to eat garbage and toxic waste to reduce climate impacts of food to landfill, and Flash Forest, which harnesses drones to reforest areas after being devastated by bushfires. Flash Forest is on track to plant one billion trees by 2028. Both these ideas sound like capitalism and technology put to good use.

And while I love a craft award case study as much as the next creative, it’s this kind of reframing and more intentional impact-focused thinking at the centre of business problems and commercial models that has me excited for more work like this in 2024 and beyond. And excited to get back to work. It’s great motivation to challenge ourselves to not only work through the process of finding creative solutions to business problems but to identify real-world problems that could be in need of creative and business solutions way outside of the confines of a brief and even where the brand’s proposition might not immediately or obviously fit. And, of course, to follow where more intentional thinking in both creativity and capitalism idea might lead.

Miriam Wells is the chief creative officer at Ogilvy PR in Australia. 

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