Jordan Hunter-Powell

Head of Global Campaigns and Stakeholder Engagement, Social Impact

Thousands of marketers gathered in the South of France for the annual industry conference Cannes Lions. With rising temperatures and more extreme weather events around the world, sustainability was once again high on the agenda in the Palais and across the Croisette, with hard questions exploring how the industry can transform to tackle the climate crisis and embed principles of sustainable marketing.

Dentsu hosted two leading brands in their beach house on Wed, 21 June, for a panel entitled ‘Superseding disruption to secure the future of people and planet’ with speakers from dentsu, Heineken Vietnam, Reckitt, and Kantar.  

Superseding disruption to secure the future of people and planet

Watch the panel here.

This panel highlighted leading research published last year by dentsu and Kantar, the first of its kind in Asia, exploring how brands and the industry could embed sustainability in their marketing principles to overcome the notable consumer intention action gap. The consumer action gap details of although many consumers want to be more sustainable, this isn’t reflected in their actions. In Asia, 98% of Asian consumers would like to buy sustainable products and services but only 17% actually claim to do so.  Many consumers find it difficult to understand what products are sustainable or face limited availability or unaffordable price points. They want brands to guide them and make it easy and rewarding for them to make better choices. Overcoming this gap is critical. The latest IPCC report published in 2022 made clear that we need demand-side mitigation with changes to how we eat, travel, heat our homes, and the purchases we make in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70%.  

‘Demand side mitigation is about changing consumer habits, how we give opportunities for consumers to make better choices and ultimately, the end user technology’ (Dominic Powers, dentsu).  

This panel focused on the Asia Pacific, a region growing at an unparalleled rate, set to become the world’s wealthiest region by 2030 as large swathes of the population join the middle class. This will have an environmental impact with an increase in, consumption, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. The region is also disproportionately impacted by the impacts of climate change by extreme weather events and inequality.  

In order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, urgent action is needed to transform the products and services that we all use and encourage more demand-side mitigation. The onus of responsibility is on brands to transform their value chains. Marketers are well equipped to support this transformation and drive sustainable marketing end-to-end. They understand what consumers want and need and can drive demand for a lower carbon future. Yet, this doesn’t show up in their job functions or day to day activities.  

‘Marketers are a critical bridge between the consumer and the brand. It’s not just about how we tell stories but it’s also how we can innovate and change the products and services to better serve a low - carbon future. This is critical for the future and yet only 37% of marketers actually have it as a function of their job’ (Dominic Powers, dentsu).   

‘If you want to really drive behaviour change, then you need a credible communication narrative backed by authentic claims across your value chain, and in your product innovation. 76% of marketers are ready to take innovation as a competitive advantage and drive growth in sustainable transformation’ (Ozlem Senturk, Kantar).   

Internal transformation is required to empower marketers  

‘What we need to do is empower marketers to actually make this change. We need to align brands with KPIs that aren't just financial but also with planetary KPIs. These two can co-exist but it’s a question of aligning internally around their significance in terms of driving your business and this requires innovation’ (Dominic Powers, dentsu).  

Efforts shouldn’t end at sustainable marketing, the panel heard from two brands who are embedding this holistic thinking across their corporate and marketing strategies.  

Heineken Vietnam is driving innovation by bringing to market more sustainable and responsible products and across their value chain - including beers with lower alcohol and sugar content, recyclable and returnable bottles, being powered by 98% renewable energy and embedding sustainability into experiential for the consumer. Recognising how critical water is for beer, they are investing in projects to prevent deforestation and partnering with NGOs like WWF to ensure long-term protection of nature.  

‘You need to work hard first to get your own house in order, to radically decarbonise across your value chain, and continue to deliver superior products to consumers. We don’t use sustainability as a message in our campaigns to consumers, but rather this should come through the activations and in the most authentic way possible. You need to think about your consumers lives and what can be most impactful and supportive to them, like providing food during festivals when people are travelling back home’. (Anna Bizon, Heineken)  

‘Authenticity is critical, we don’t use sustainability agenda in our campaigns. Instead, we think about how you authentically show up and how you can improve people’s lives – whether that’s providing food or fuel for the long commute home during the holidays. You need to think about what matters to your audience and then truly believe that your ROI is the future of this planet.’ – (Anna Bizon, Heineken Vietnam.) 

‘As a leader, you need to have the courage to think long-term rather than focus on short-term KPIs. To be an agent of change, you need to change structures and processes to drive this structure forward’ (Anna Bizon, Heineken) 

‘It’s no longer a choice not to act. The awareness and consciousness of the consumer will only increase in the coming years. If you’re not embedding meaningful and sustainable change, consumers will see this. Without meaningful engagement, your brand may not exist in the future. It’s not a choice about doing good, it’s a choice about doing business’. (Saurabh Jain, Reckitt) 

However, this focus needs to be on long-term, rather than short-term KPIs to truly drive growth.  

‘The P&L matters. The no.1 blocker to long-term thinking is the P&L. How do we better align KPIs that aren't just financial, but both financial and planetary KPIs. These two can exist together but this requires innovation.’ (Dominic Powers, dentsu)  

Growth and good are compatible and sustainability can be a competitive advantage 

These shifts are easier said than done and fundamental transformation is required across organisations to empower and enable innovation and transformation, powered by courageous leadership.  

Reckitt has worked over the last 3 years to build 100m toilets as part of a government commitment to end open defecation. 

‘For us, this makes both business and social sense. We’re a toilet cleaner brand that has 80% majority share in India. Having a toilet is the first step in our business (model) so joining this initiative early on and being a core part of our consumer’s journey is critical for us as a business’. (Saurabh Jain, Reckitt) 

‘There has to be a fundamental shift in understanding that growth can come from good and it’s not just about sustainability and climate change; it’s about the impact that you can have on the end consumers and creating an inclusive, regenerative future.’ (Dominic Powers, dentsu)  

Download dentsu and Kantar’s proprietary research, Marketing a better future