21 June 2017
Fearless Girl has cleaned up in Cannes, but in the process has revealed some inconvenient truths about the shallow way some brands are interpreting corporate purpose.
This week we’ve been sharing between us our favourite work on show at Cannes. No surprise that Fearless Girl, the now iconic statue of a small child facing down New York financial district’s famous Charging Bull statue, has swept the board.
Credit where credit is due, it was an inspired idea from McCann and State Street Global Advisors. Every aspect of this work, from the way they went about it to the actual design of the piece itself is truly awe-inspiring, placed as it was in time for International Women’s Day.
Karen Van Bergen, CEO of Omnicom Public Relations Group, said her PR Lions jury was completely awestruck by the work. “As a financial services company that put this statue up in the heart of the financial world, we thought that was extremely courageous,” she said. “It’s a beautiful story. There have been a couple of attempts to take down Fearless Girl, but she’s still there in spite of all the adversity.”
Yes, courageous. And on balance for the way it’s advanced a very worthwhile debate about women in the City, it’s probably worth the flak that State Street have had to wade through to keep Girl in place.
And yet, it’s got us thinking about the potential of brands like State Street to take these brilliant ideas further. To be fair, they’ve been able to show a serious uplift in revenues and free advertising worth upwards of $30m, thanks to the profile they’ve gotten from Fearless Girl, so well done for giving that bottom line a boost, boys.
The fact is though, without a root-and-branch campaign to embed the values and ideals across the organisation that Fearless Girl so brilliantly expresses, it’s hard not to be more than a bit cynical about the work.
So let’s look at why … according to a survey conducted by the PR giant Edelman in the spring, about 57% of consumers are either buying or boycotting brands based on the company’s position on social and political issues. So you’d think given they spent $250,000 on this, someone could have taken some time to get their own house in order first, so they were ready for the inevitable scrutiny – out of State Street’s top 28 execs, only 5 are women.
In their defence, they might say the work isn’t intended as a statement about their own perfect set up, and is more about highlighting broader issues and aspirations. Fair enough. But how about then looking at how you embed the values of diversity and equality through your organisation before you pull up a milk crate and tell the world they need to do better.
Their mission is pretty clearly stated: we believe investing responsibly enables economic prosperity and social progress. Great, you’ve got my attention. And…? What we know from our own brand strategy projects with RB (Reckitt Benckiser) and Coty is that people want their brands to be more authentic, purpose-led and to just simply do good “for the sake of it”, without there needing to be an obvious direct link to revenues (the much discussed idea of “shared value”). And none of their comms seem reflective of their lofty ideals in terms of look and feel.
State Street has doubtless being doing a lot of retrofitting of its CSR policies here, and I have to say, there is more to like here than dislike. It would be fantastic though to see more evidence of their Purpose as a driving force behind more than just its social policy – it should influence every aspect of the company’s strategy and behaviour – M&A, employee engagement, performance reviews, employer branding, purchasing strategy, R&D priorities etc.
Take RB’s recent acquisition of Mead Johnson, and its speculated divestment of its food brands. In his statements about the rationale behind the purchase, CEO Rakesh Kapoor has consistently reinforced the way he intends for RB’s purpose ‘healthier lives happier homes’ to drive the business strategy of the company going forward.
And if it’s good enough for RB, a company that has shown itself to be in a class of its when it comes to delivering shareholder value, then it should be good enough for all.