The Drum @ Cannes Lions 2018: It's 'common sense' for brands to seek sustainability, says Mars

Brand purpose is currently an industry rallying call, and that is certainly apparent at Cannes Lions this year.

Speaking on the 'Business Purpose: the paradox and the potential' panel about this trend, Melissa Waggener Zorkin, chief executive of WE Communications and Michelle Oliver, global head of purpose, diversity and inclusion at Mars discussed how brands should both walk the walk and talk the talk, when it comes to their core values.

At Mars, Oliver said that its purpose has come from defining how its brands have a positive impact on society or the environment.

From an independent communications agency's point of view, for Waggener Zorkin, purpose means two things. She says: "As a $120m company we run as a purpose driven business and expect our people to be united around a to a set of values and principles in the way they work.

"More importantly though, partnering with our clients so that they are indeed purpose driven companies. There are many CEOs out there today who are talking about purpose but there are not quite sure how to get to the action and that's where we come in."

The industry isn't being forced to be purpose driven says Waggener Zorkin. "We begin with a vision for our company." she explains. "From the start we intrinsically make every decision based on purpose."

Oliver believes that a world where businesses are trying to compete on purpose would be a better world. But that however, isn't happening. She explains: "The bit where it falls apart is when purpose has no depth to it. When it's a story a brand tells but the organisation doesn't live that story.

"At Mars we don't get everything right, but we are passionate that if we are going to come out and say something in a brand, we are then working internally in terms of how we make sure that we're intentional about living those values."

Mars is a $34bn, family-owned business. Oliver talks about agile long-termism at play here. "You have to have investors and leaders who are not just looking at the bottom line for this year but the next generation."

Brand purpose as a trend

There is a bit of a formula behind all of this, says Waggener Zorkin. "We need to be certain that purpose doesn't become a trend."

"We have seen when that happens and what happens to the topic. Stepping back, there are some industries who have done tremendous damage to the planet who also have done damage to their work force in many different ways."

She continues: "Sometimes there need to be a leadership transition. They need to start the conversation at at the beginning. What do you believe in? What is your entire employee base believe in? And stand up for that. It's a long process but you can measure your progress with impact driven results."

Talking about the moral consciousness of businesses, Oliver says that all brands cannot wade into a political discussion. She rejects the idea that Mars' recent campaigns that celebrate diversity and disability are political statements.

"There are key issues that Mars want to have a point of view on and be a part of creating a change, irrespective of what the political spectrum we sit on."

There are certain issues where they want to represent their associates and consumers and have a business perspective of it. She explains: "We have at times been very clear about our business point of views. We feel very passionately, at Mars, about the environment and about climate change, to the extent that we are putting significant money behind that."

The company has committed billions of US dollars to fight climate change but it's not a political point, she adds, although it could be interpreted it in that way especially in the US at the moment. She concludes: "It is just business common sense for a company to want to be here on a sustainable planet, in a sustainable way in the future. "

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