How Two Winning Campaigns from Cannes Demonstrated Real Brand Action

Aug 7 2018


The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is often considered the Oscars of the creative and marketing industry. While I wasn’t able to attend this year, I excitedly dug into the list of 30 Grand Prix winners. They were awarded in categories such as digital craft, innovation, health and wellness – and my favorite, a category simply entitled “good.”

Those familiar with my philosophy of Doing Well By Doing Good know that I believe all brands should move beyond brand purpose to take meaningful brand action. In other words, I love it when a brand puts good front and center, and I’m delighted that Cannes celebrates it. But I also wanted to see whether these winning campaigns were merely feel-good messages, or if they were part of a larger action.

After watching clips from all of the Grand Prix-winning entries from this year’s ceremony, I was honestly dazzled and inspired by many of them. And my two favorites came from India.

Savlon’s “Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks”
Savlon, which manufactures soap and is part of the Indian conglomerate ITC, wanted to help kids with hand-washing hygiene, which is a big issue in the country since children use their hands to eat but don’t always have access to soap. Savlon identified solving this challenge as a core value; in other words: brand purpose. Then it moved to brand action. It provided its incredible product, Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks, which look and work like normal chalk except with the powdery residue left on fingers turning to soap under water, to rural schools for free, in the hopes of reducing the country’s infant mortality rate.

The spot that Savlon’s ad firm, Ogilvy & Mather, Mumbai, made to show the product in use is mind-blowing. And what’s equally impressive is the brand-action campaign that accompanies it.

The chalk sticks were an immediate hit. Kids liked them, schools requested them, and behaviors started to change. Today more than 1 million children in more than 2,000 schools use the chalk sticks and they are distributed around the globe.

Savlon could have monetized the product from the jump. But it kept its eye on the public health objective first and never wavered in that commitment. That’s doing well by doing good.

The NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute’s “Blink To Speak” Campaign
This one won the “Health Grand Prix for Good” and for good reason. The NeuroGen Brain and Spine Institute, in partnership with the nonprofit Asha Ek Hope Foundation, both based in Mumbai, created a language for people with paralysis, such as people with ALS, and commissioned a video that shows how paralyzed people can blink to communicate their needs:

This reminded me of the beautiful memoir-turned-movie “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which is the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke and learned to communicate through his eyes. “Blink To Speak” takes that idea and turns it into the world’s first eye language, complete with eight alphabets and 50 simple eye movements, which can be used to say everything from “yes” and “no” to “danger” and “I love you.” The language is for people who can’t afford expensive assistive technology, which right now is the alternative for people with paralysis. To use this language you just need use of your eyes, which is the one organ patients can rely on.

Like Salvon, NeuroGen could have entered the market with only dollars in mind. But it didn’t. It launched with a brand action to distribute 100,000 free copies of the guide throughout India and conducted free trainings to patients, caregivers and their staff. Again: doing well by doing good.

And the language found traction. It has now reached more than 3 million people and has been endorsed by the ALS community and the broader medical community. It has literally given the gift of language to an entire group of people who needed one.

Well done, Savlon and NeuroGen. You deserved your lions, and I hope other brands follow your courageous lead.