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The creativity behind Tony's Chocolonely's social impact

By Chris Adams, Founder & Lead Consultant

Hey Honey


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May 2, 2024 | 8 min read

The Social for Good series invites marketers from agencies, brands, organizations, and NGOs that have a clear mission to improve the world we live in. Hey Honey’s goal is to encourage readers to be more aware and change their behavior so that they may improve the lives of others and of their own through smarter social-first creative, communications, and community engagement. Meet Emma Baines, global head of creative for Tony's Chocolonely.

In today's world, where conscious consumerism and social responsibility guide purchasing decisions, Tony's Chocolonely is a leader in purpose-driven innovation. For the fourth time in a row, Tony’s has been elected by Dutch consumers as the most sustainable brand in the Netherlands in the Sustainable Brand Index ranking. One of those individuals at the forefront of their creative efforts is Emma Baines, who serves as the global head of creative.

Tony's Chocolonely proudly identifies itself as an "impact company that makes chocolate." Emma emphasizes this distinction, highlighting their commitment to a mission-driven approach. "When we say we're ‘an impact company that sells chocolate, not the other way around,’ it's because our mission is our driving force,".

Understanding Tony's Chocolonely's creative philosophy requires exploring its foundational story. Originating from a simple question of 'why,' the company's inception challenged the industry. "Why is the chocolate we enjoy linked to illegal child labor and exploitation?" This question not only inspired the creation of Tony's Chocolonely but continues to guide their creative process. Emma explains, "Our mission forms the core of everything we do creatively. Whether it's a campaign for a new product or an internal communication, we always ask: does this align with our purpose and values? If not, we reassess."

Embracing a culture of curiosity, Tony's Chocolonely continually questions design norms to maintain its uniqueness. "We ask 'why' to challenge design conventions and ensure our brand stands out," Emma stressed. This commitment to innovation ensures Tony's Chocolonely remains distinct across all channels, from product packaging to social media content.

In a world where ethical consumption is increasingly important, Tony's Chocolonely continues to redefine socially responsible branding, one delicious chocolate bar at a time.

“At Tony’s, we are all about PR, bold storytelling, and fierce activism - it’s in our DNA - the first Tony’s chocolate bar was a stunt itself. We’re a challenger brand, we’re the agitators in an industry otherwise dominated by big corporate chocolate companies. Anita Roddick once said, ‘if you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room’; that’s us, we are the mosquito trying to bring about positive change. We are disrupting traditional practices in every aspect of our business from the supply chain to our creative in order to raise awareness, lead by example, and inspire action.”

Sitting down with Emma, we learn about the importance of creativity in raising awareness, her influencer inspirations, challenges in integrating creativity into mission-led initiatives, and why it’s all about the consumers.

How does creativity fuel Tony's mission to shake up the chocolate industry?

To raise awareness of our mission, we have to cut through the noise by finding unique and innovative creative solutions to the obstacles we face as a challenger brand. We don’t have a fraction of the budget the big chocolate players have, so instead, we have to be smart with the resources we do have through creativity, earned media, and bold activism.

Our number one marketing channel is our chocolate. The distinctive, bright packaging makes you want to pick it up and has the mission story printed on the inside of the wrapper. Love it or hate it, our bars are unequally divided for a reason - they physically represent that the profits in the chocolate industry are unequally divided. We often get complaints that people can’t share them fairly – but that’s the point. Similarly, when our holiday Countdown Calendar launched in the UK, we purposefully didn’t include chocolate behind the eighth window to draw attention to inequality in the chocolate industry. People were outraged, yes, but on the flip side, it was a smart creative decision that raised awareness for our mission.

Part of being the brand we are is about being willing to take risks and take unconventional routes to redefine the status quo. An important part of our marketing strategy has been to focus on building direct relationships, not just with the cocoa farmers we source from but also our Choco Fans and Serious Friends (what we call consumers and advocates). We do this by sharing our chocolate and sharing our story. We’ve found that creating experiences is a great way to do this.

Last year, we hosted a Chocolate Pop-up in Spain where we invited people from the streets of Madrid to enjoy 'Free Chocolate' - of course, as they soon discovered, there's no such thing as free chocolate. Little did they know, they were about to embark on a different journey before receiving their bars of delicious chocolate.

Tonys Chocolonely Chocolate Popup in Spain

As part of the experience, we first took them to a West African cocoa plantation and shared 'the bitter truth' through a film in a darkened room. This bitter truth reveals that the price of cocoa in West Africa is kept so low that farmers have no choice but to resort to illegal labor to survive. While the rest of the world prioritizes big profits and cheap prices over human rights, we then introduced 'the sweet solution': the work Tony’s Chocolonely is doing through our 5 sourcing principles to combat poverty, unfairness, and exploitation in the cocoa supply chain. I'm not exaggerating when I say tears have been shed at these events as people have been confronted with truths they were completely unaware of.

Together with all the other elements of our marketing channels, creative campaigns have worked because they’ve created such a lasting impact, driving word of mouth and advocacy for the brand which helps grow awareness of our brand and mission.

What challenges do you face in integrating creativity into mission-driven initiatives?

One challenge we face is communicating the bitter truth in an engaging way - educating people on a mission and urging them to buy a product are two very different and difficult things to balance. We are aware it is more likely that people will come for the product and taste, and then stay for the mission. We have to get the right balance when looking at creative from this perspective, where do we talk to the consumer about the mission and where do we talk about the product.

I’ve also talked about big chocolate companies, we are the David to their Goliath, with the important difference being we don’t want to topple them, quite the opposite actually. While on one hand we want to call them out, on the other we want them to join us in our mission. Only together can we end exploitation in cocoa. So yes, we might poke, but our challenge is to ensure it’s an inviting way. A good example of this was when Toblerone had to remove the Matterhorn from their packaging; we invited them via social media to join Tony’s Open Chain.

Tonys request for Toblerone to remove the Matterhorn from their packaging

In addition to these challenges, we have to understand the important role that consumers play in driving change. Consumers are active participants in challenging and reshaping the status quo. Without their support, our mission won’t be achieved. It's a collective journey where consumers must also demand more from the chocolate industry, questioning its practices and motivations. Our ability to achieve our mission hinges on consumer engagement and action. We have to inspire them through bold creative and marketing initiatives if we want to see change.

What influences drive your creativity and how would you inspire others to make impactful work?

I am a proud ‘Swiftie’, from both a creative and work ethic perspective. She’s a creative powerhouse, and not just in her insane musical ability; she claimed her power back with her record-breaking re-records. She knows her consumer and has mastered fan engagement with her ‘easter eggs’. She taps into the zeitgeist, not to mention her Eras tour is propping up the US economy. She is a talented, smart businesswoman, and we can all learn a lot from how she is constantly challenging the status quo. Personally, I want to create work that moves the needle, to challenge that status quo, and when there is a creative problem I need to solve, I think ‘what would Taylor do’.

Impactful work is born from passion and curiosity, fueled by empathy, and driven by a relentless pursuit of excellence. To achieve this, creatives need the right environment conducive to great work—a safe space where judgment and criticism are limited, and barriers are removed to allow them the freedom to ideate and embrace failure. Clear expectations, a culture of constructive feedback, and, every now and then, shaking things up! Oh, and don't forget chocolate-fueled brainstorms.


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