Photo credit: Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity

Edelman always has a prominent role in the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Colleagues that attended the event regularly reported this year featured more campaigns with strong statements about Purpose.

But how many of the creative and captivating entries truly demonstrate an authentic and coherent approach to a Purpose-led business strategy? To answer this, it is necessary to go back to first principles. Edelman defines Purpose as the strategic intersection between what a business does, the impact it has on people and planet, and its ability to bring about transformative change.

Principles of Purpose

Supporting this overarching definition, there are five key principles vital to creating a genuine and successful Purpose strategy:

  1. The business needs to have credibility to speak about the issue. There must be a coherence and congruence with the wider role and impact of the business.
  2. The Purpose strategy and campaigns need to be executed in a sensitive, logical manner. Success will only be delivered in partnership with others. You must bring them along with you, recognising that taking a stance on a contentious issue will inevitably alienate some people.
  3. The company tackles the issue through actions internally and externally. As well as engaging key internal and external stakeholders, it is vital that the company ensures that its own actions live up to its Purpose – across all aspects of its value chain.
  4. The strategy drives business value. A Purpose-led strategy must be clearly tied to the financial imperatives of the business and demonstrate how it delivers commercial objectives. Purpose is not about doing good for good’s sake.
  5. The strategy delivers measurable, positive societal benefits. Finally, it is important not to overlook the need to deliver tangible results to society. This means moving beyond just talking about an issue or campaigning on a cause – the company must provoke action among employees, customers, partners and other stakeholders to deliver positive social change.

We can use these principles to judge whether campaigns demonstrate ‘true’ Purpose. Certainly, these principles can be seen in some of the shortlisted and winning entries.

Issues addressed at Cannes

The themes addressed in the Cannes Lions span a wide range of social and environmental issues – from ocean plastics to health and well-being; from the refugee crisis to media ethics and integrity.

To give a flavour of some of the most effective campaigns, it is useful to focus on the winners in the “Titanium Lions”. Work in this category celebrates campaigns in branded communications that are meant to be provocative and breaking boundaries. Of the six winners in this category, two were strong examples of Purpose-led work. 

The Palau Pledge

Palau, a Pacific island-nation, has seen a massive growth in tourist numbers in the past three years. It faces the challenge of finding a balance between encouraging tourism without compromising the environment. The work involved partnering with government, the Palau population and the tourist industry to model and promote sustainable attitudes and behaviour among tourists and locals.

The campaign moves well beyond communications to encompass a commitment device (The Pledge) which promotes ecologically responsible behaviour amongst tourists and locals, ensuring enforcement and encouragement is seen to be everyone’s job.

The Pledge is a commitment device rooted in behavioural economics. By making a person agree to a small, public request to sign the Pledge, it creates a strong internal desire to behave consistently. Palau can also take legal action against visitors who violate the strict environmental laws underpinning the Pledge – including fining offenders up to $1million.


This campaign for Essity, the hygiene and health company, aimed to address the taboo around women’s periods. The issue is that while modern culture is awash with imagery of blood in medical, crime and horror films, periods are either absent or ridiculed if it is shown. This has had damaging effects on women’s mental and physical well-being – 56% of teens would rather be bullied than tell their parents about their period. 42% of women have been period shamed. And half of women have felt embarrassed by their periods.

Bloodnormal wanted to challenge this stigma and show that periods are normal and without shame. However, broadcasting authorities still police the showing of period blood, often ruling its depiction can cause offence. Using a provocative film to demonstrate the menstrual blood taboo, the campaign generated massive debate over the issues, elevating the discussion into mainstream media and social conversation. Other activities included producing a graphic novel, running period school workshops and casting influencers to spread the message.

Beyond these two great examples, there was another notable shortlisted entry in the Design Lions category.

Share your Buy

SHARE is a social brand with a mission that addresses the issue of 12% of the world’s population living in hunger. The essential insight of this initiative is that many more people would do good if it were easy and they had full transparency and control over where their help arrives and in what form.

The SHARE proposition is based on the 1+1 principle: with every purchase of a SHARE product you give an equivalent product to a person in need, satisfying the basic needs for food, water and hygiene. This work is much more than just advertising. A whole new brand and business model has been built on the idea of sharing.

Key takeaways

Across these initiatives, there are several fundamental characteristics that makes them stand out from the dozens of other shortlisted entries into this year’s Cannes Lions and that arguably helped drive their selection in the first place. In short, they demonstrated the five core principles of a credible Purpose-led strategy.

Ultimately, the campaigns highlighted above all demonstrate how the organisation aligns their core activities with driving positive, transformational change for society, while delivering commercial value for themselves.

This is what a Purpose-led strategy truly looks like.