The CMO Show:
David Ohana on creative marketing...

David Ohana, Chief of Brand Building at UNICEF, talks to host Mark Jones about reaching billions and raising millions through creative marketing for social impact.

Once upon a time big name brands and social impact organisations were disparate entities with markedly different goals and values.

Today, big ticket issues like climate change and plastic waste have pushed everyone across all sectors to step up and take action, resulting in some powerful cross-sector collaborations in the interests of the greater good.

So, how exactly can we all work together to make a difference?

David Ohana is the Chief of Brand Building at UNICEF and has more than 15 years’ experience working in advertising. He’s witnessed first-hand the power of brands wield to reach billions and raise millions. 

“The most powerful use of creativity, big ideas, resources and partnerships is when you apply them to solving challenges,” David says.

David leverages the power of the private sector and creative community to help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges, and is fiercely passionate about developing shared value partnerships for the common good.

“Some of the most powerful ideas that have not just raised a tonne of money or changed attitudes, but actually helped solve problems have been collaborations when the creative community, brands and the private sector jump on board to help UNICEF and the UN work on some of the biggest challenges the world faces,” David says.

“It’s about us learning to embrace each other, staying in our lanes, figuring out what we can add to the equation and doing just that.”

If you want to do something good in the world, David suggests discovering your passion and incorporating it into your daily life.

“It used to be you’d have to quit your job and go and work in a charity, jungle or a desert somewhere to feel like you were achieving something and making a difference. We’ve come so far away from that, where I would say, do the work you’re good at and that you’re passionate about, and then find a way to use that to help create positive social impact,” he says.

Check out this episode of The CMO Show to find out how marketers can harness creativity and collaborate across sectors in the interests of social impact.


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The CMO Show production team

Producer – Charlotte Goodwin & Natalie Cupac

Audio Engineers – Daniel Marr & Tom Henderson

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Host: Mark Jones

Guest: David Ohana

Mark Jones: To create lasting impact, marketing efforts must be purpose-led and balance the need for short-term conversions with longer-term metrics like brand affinity, advocacy, and loyalty. But what are you doing to build the brand of your organisation over the long-term? How are you demonstrating the positive impact your organisation has on its customers, employees, and society? In short, what’s your story?

Mark Jones: Hello friends. Mark Jones here. Welcome back to another episode of The CMO Show. Our guest today is David Ohana, a local guy who’s now the chief of brand building at UNICEF, also known as the United Nations Children’s Fund, and he’s based in the Big Apple of course, New York.

Mark Jones: He’s been there for 10 years and he’s got a really great story on how he got there, but more on that in just a tick. He talks to us in this episode about how NFPs, charities and organisations operating in the social enterprise can remain relevant in a time where corporations are just starting to develop their own brand purpose, and working towards helping solve things like the plastic crisis, climate change, gender equality and all these important issues.

Mark Jones: We chat about the role of celebrity ambassadors and influencers when it comes to promoting these big issues and leveraging creativity in your cause so that people can be aligned with your goal. I really enjoyed it, it’s a really engaging conversation. It gets you into different parts of the organisation and how organisations like this can create positive change.

Mark Jones: So, with all that said, let’s get right into it.

Mark Jones: My very special guest today is David Ohana. He’s the Chief of Brand Building at UNICEF, and you’re an Australian guy?

David Ohana: That’s correct and thanks so much for having me here. I grew up in Lane Cove just down the road.

Mark Jones: Snap. So did I. So, we’re like two old Lane Cove boys and …

David Ohana: Come good or not depending on how this interview goes.

Mark Jones: We shall see. Tell us your story just as we get into it because it’s an interesting one. How did you end up at the UN, at UNICEF in New York from  a nice Sydney suburb.

David Ohana: So, I grew up on the North Shore, went to school, high school at SCEGGS Redlands in Cremorne. I think in year nine at high school we had to pick a profession and spend a year doing an assignment on it, getting to understand it and learn it.

David Ohana: You know, and at school you’ve got distractions, lots of stuff going on. On the day we had to announce what we’re going to do, I hadn’t quite spent much time thinking about what it was. They’d very kindly given us this kind of cheat sheet of all of these professions in alphabetical order. And as the teacher was coming around the class, I remember looking at the sheet and the first one was accounting. And I was like, “No way.” Like, I’m still bad with numbers. The second one was advertising. I thought, “Well, that sounds cool. I’ll give that a go.” Fast forward, a couple of years, I’m at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst majoring in advertising.

David Ohana: For our final year assignment, we had to pick a client and spend the year doing an advertising campaign for them. And for whatever reason, I had narrowed it down to either Nike or the United nations. Now, one evening, almost on a whim, I called up UN headquarters in New York, managed to talk my way through to someone in the communications team. And to my surprise, a lovely woman came on the other end of the line and I cleared my throat and said, “Hi, I’m David calling from Australia and I would like to offer my services pro bono to the United nations.” She didn’t hang up on me at first, which was the first surprise. The second, she sort of sounded a bit cranky and was like, “Well, you’re a bit late, aren’t you? You are calling about the World AIDS Day campaign.” Which I said …

Mark Jones: Obviously.

David Ohana: “Obviously.” Yes. And as luck would have it, the UN had just put out a tender to advertising agencies to manage their world AIDS day campaign for that year. They put us in touch with the office in Sydney, sent us a stack of paperwork, which of course I had no idea how to fill out. We were just some university students, like company financials for the last five years, etc. So we just did what we-

Mark Jones: So you were responding to an RFP?

David Ohana: Basically, but we just did what we thought we knew how to do at the time, which is to actually just go ahead and do the campaign. We came up with a marketing strategy. We shot a TV commercial a few days later in a nightclub fundraising idea. And then the big day came, we marched into UN office in Sydney. They were a bit confused at first. Firstly, we were not an advertising agency, we had not actually filled out all the paperwork or done a proposal, but what we had done is presented them with a finished campaign. What happened next, we were probably the most surprised. We won the pitch, putting out a number of actual real agencies. The work that was done by a couple of students in regional New South Wales was now being played right around the world on CNN, on BBC, stadiums and cinemas. And I think that was my very first aha moment and definitely the beginning of my relationship with the organisation.

David Ohana: A couple of months later, another entirely unexpected thing happened, which I was at home, the phone rang and this time it was the United Nations contacting me. A job had come up in East Timor, which as you would remember, after their vote for independence there, the country was raised.

Mark Jones: Yeah, absolutely.

David Ohana: They needed someone urgently to go and fill that job in the communications team. Someone at the UN, in fact, one Carlos Bran, who was the head of the office said, “Well, what about that guy in … the kid in Sydney that just had the world AIDS Day thing? Let’s send him.” I think it was because I was close and cheap.

Mark Jones: Well, free I think based on the …

David Ohana: Exactly. So, without really a day of real life actual work experience, I find myself as an international communication’s consultant working in Dili East Timor. Honestly, the next couple of weeks were really kind of truly, I guess forward to the path that I’m on now, which is I got to see this organisation I had gone in, and was literally, for all intents and purposes, running the country, the most incredible folks I’d ever had the experience of meeting and working with in Dili. My boss was this incredibly inspirational guy called Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian diplomat. So, my eyes were opened, my mind was blown.

David Ohana: I remember, when I was in East Timor, I actually got a call from Saatchi and Saatchi, the advertising agency that I’d always wanted to work for, that I’d been offered a trainingship there. And so, normally that would’ve been my dream call, but I remember in that exact moment I’d realised that my purpose and my priorities had started to shift.

Mark Jones: In what sense?

David Ohana: It was an experience that happened around that time that I think forged everything I’ve done ever since, which is I was working in each Timor on a project to move a bunch of families away from an area where there were still some militia and dengue favour, often working late nights under difficult circumstances with very few resources. I finished my contract with UN on a Tuesday and literally started at Saatchi and Saatchi on a Wednesday. And on that Wednesday morning, I remember sitting in this really plush boardroom, having quite a lengthy conversation about whether a particular automotive company’s logo should come into frame a few seconds earlier or later in the spot.

David Ohana: And no disrespect to that company or Saatchi’s or advertising. In fact, almost the opposite, I just remember the 20-year-old version of myself sitting there thinking if we just had 5% of the creativity, the resources, the partnerships that we have in this boardroom today, if I had access to that, in Dili yesterday, we could have potentially solved a tonne of challenges and maybe even saved some lives. I think that experience really set the course of everything I’ve done in my career ever since.

Mark Jones: So, it was hard to reconcile the really quite radical experience you’d had working in Timor and the agency world. That’s one view of it as well, right?

David Ohana: Yeah. It really distilled in me the idea that the most powerful use of creativity, big ideas, resources and partnerships is when you apply them to solving challenges. 

David Ohana: Every time I brought in a UN brief or a UNICEF brief, the whole agency wanted to work on it and it just comes down to one’s purpose. I also saw later on in my life since I’ve now been at the UN, I’ve seen some of the most powerful ideas that have actually not just raised a tonne of money or changed attitudes, but actually helped solve problems have actually been collaborations when the creative community and brands and the private sector jump on board to help UNICEF and the UN work on some of the biggest challenges that the world faces. So, I think it’s such a powerful mix of the two worlds. I think ad land needs … this is the sort of the heart and soul and purpose that is incredibly powerful, and at the UN we certainly need some big ideas.

David Ohana: I saw this really curious thing when I jumped ship about 10 years ago to the UN, which is in advertising, we could take any product as dull and banal as a bar of soap, and then using creativity and marketing spend and strategy amplified up into something truly amazing and life changing, right?

Mark Jones: Right. A higher value order of some kind.

David Ohana: It just instilled in me that the same methodologies, tools that we’re using in ad land and marketers use to sell products, if we could apply a lot of that thinking and those insights, we could really, really move the needle on challenges, which the world really does need to be focused on right now.

Mark Jones: It begs all sorts of questions. One of the things that jumps to mind for me is this, I call it the joy of simplicity. In the UN and at UNICEF, you’re dealing with scale and complexity and emotional trauma and all sorts of things. In some sense, you’re trying to, not reduce it, but to understand what’s the common theme or what’s the core of the story and how can we get people into something very complex. The contrast was a bar of soap and making that, if you like, a much, much grander. So I can see the tension there. I guess I’m thinking about your story. 

Mark Jones: How have you sorted your way through all of this?

David Ohana: I think the story of my career so far, and you know, I’m still at the beginning of my journey, is a mixture of what you just described and also just good old fashioned persistence. The part of the story that I didn’t mention between the kid from Lane Cove and now what I’m doing in the UN is, to finally get at my dream job working at the UN, I applied 28 straight times over a period of 10 years. In fact, I decided if it got to 30 applications or 10 years and I hadn’t heard back from them, I would give up on my UN career and stay in the world that I was very comfortable in.

David Ohana: I knew about 10 years ago that my purpose, at least as it is now, is to work on bringing together the very best of the creative community and the clearest, simplest, most impactful briefs that the UN and UNICEF have and bringing them together to try help solving these problems. I feel very, very strongly about that.

Mark Jones: The interesting thing, I guess to sort of stay in the marketing community kind of conversation around this at the moment, of course, is brand purpose. It seems like we’ve come so far into this brand purpose space where it’s almost like if it doesn’t have a purpose, why do it at all? I wonder whether that’s … is that true? I think your probably uniquely in a position to be able to shed some light on this because I think we’re getting a little bit confused about the ultimate purpose of marketing. What’s your perspective on that?

David Ohana: Sure. To answer that, I think I’m going to go back first to where I think things were, particularly when I left Australia to where I believe they are now and where I hope they’re going to go. 15, 20 years ago when I was on the ad land side of the fence, there was certainly a lot of kind of scepticism and almost some mistrust between the two worlds. Back then, the union between creativity and cause was often pretty damn awkward. It was kind of like a bad school dance where you’d have cause guys on one side of the room and the corporates on the other, like sweaty palms, particularly the cause guys that are using that kind of weird natural deodorant stuff. Neither side really knew or understood how to speak to one another.

Mark Jones: Yes.

David Ohana: I think the mistrust came by, you’d have examples, sort of some fairly famous ones of like a brand that would donate $1 million to a charity and then spend $10 million PRing about the fact that they donated $1 million to the charity. In the organogram, I remember there was this wave of time of people hiring corporate social responsibility like a person and bolting them into the organogram because they sort of felt that they had to.

Mark Jones: By that you mean like org chart, right?

David Ohana: Yeah, organisation chat. Absolutely. In ad land, there was unfortunately lots of examples of an agency coming up with a truly powerful public service announcement and then running it once at 3:00 AM so they could enter it into an award show, and my favourite was when it was in the effectiveness categories. And so I think there was enough of these things going on that there was a bit of mistrust between the two worlds. I think fast forward to today, we’re not there yet, but I think it’s come so far in the sense that almost to the point where I believe a lot of my colleagues in the cause space, myself included are starting to feel a bit of FOMO when it comes to brands.

David Ohana: All of a sudden, we’re having shoe companies and sunglass manufacturers and others who are showing case studies where they’re doing it, almost as well, or better in terms of some social impact than a lot of NGOs and governments. In 2019, three amazing young women, Emma Gonzalez on gun control, Greta Thunberg on climate change, Malala on education, all women under 20 are schooling us every single day in our whole sector on how to engage and how to ignite public imagination and how to be powerful in that manner. There’s a bunch of folks that are doing our job, governments and not for profits really well. So, it’s about us learning to embrace each other, staying in our lanes, figuring out what we can add to the equation and doing just that.

David Ohana: But I feel like there’s a lot more folks like me who are bridging the gap between those two worlds. I think it’s come at a time where, no longer, just doing good if you’re a brand, just gets you through the pearly gates a bit quicker. It’s a nice to have.

David Ohana: Actually, it’s not only good for business, it’s almost critical for business. All the research about the next wave of consumers, millennials. So, not just that two-thirds of them will prioritise a job where the brand has a very strong social impact strategy, which is, if I’m a brand and an employer, that’s something I’ve really got to look at.

Mark Jones: Yes.

David Ohana: But they also have spending capacity of $2.5 trillion, 95% of them will switch to a good cause. There’s so much data showing that this is actually brands that aren’t embracing this will not only find themselves on the wrong side of history, but they’re gonna run out of customers. I’m not saying brand should give up what they’re doing and they’re still shareholder and all of the parts that they need that they need to achieve, but there’s no reason they can’t do that in a socially sustainable conscious way. Mark Jones: Going back to your FOMO comment …

David Ohana: Yes.

Mark Jones: … is interesting to me because I see this through the lens of story and ostensibly what you’re saying is that commercial for profit organisations have become better at telling the story of a cause or a purpose or an impact than the organization’s actually doing it.

David Ohana: Correct.

Mark Jones: Right? And that seems to me, well, actually, not entirely surprising if you think that most of your time and effort should be actually doing good. So, are you saying then that the opportunity now is for NGOs to really focus on learning from the corporates who are getting this right?

David Ohana: Listen we both have a tonne to learn from each other. I’m not suggesting, I think we still have very strong lanes to stay in. UNICEF is very good at delivering results for kids around the world and we’ve been doing that for many, many years. I think we definitely have more to learn in terms of telling the story of what we’re doing and just as importantly the why of what we’re doing, which people tend to buy-in even more so. So, we definitely have that lesson to learn and we’re doing it, I think we’re starting to do it better. UNICEF is doing it better than a lot of organisations in our sector because we have to be, we’re extra budgetary.

David Ohana: We need to be able to tell the story of what we’re doing well. I also think, in terms of ability to effect change, last year in the States in terms of revenue, private sector and brands was $20 trillion, government was $3 trillion roughly and not for profit space was $1 trillion. So, just in terms of access to resources, private sector and brands have such an ability that if they stop pointing even some of their resources that they were just spending on making ads on working with us to help solve some of these challenges, we’ll be able to do so better, faster, more effectively. It’s not just treating big corporations as ATMs, it’s looking throughout their supply chain, their business practises, their know-how, their IP and working with them collaboratively.

David Ohana: Brand and brand building used to be a bit of a dirty word in my space. In fact, I think for a while myself and my team were the only folks that actually had brand in our titles.

Mark Jones: So you actually own this concept of brand at a fundamental level.

David Ohana: Yeah, UNICEF, for well before I joined, was doing amazing work in the goodwill ambassador space. We’re one of the first organisations to embrace the use of influencers to help tell our story with us and have invested probably more in the brand building side just because we have to. Because there was this sort of a sense that that brand building and marketing was kind of the thing of charlatans and I had a former head of UNICEF, an amazing human being, but just didn’t even like the word brand. 

David Ohana: And that’s been actually the feeling quite across the UN. And then, there has been, and I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in some of these. And others, I’m a massive cheerleader from the sidelines. There’s been a couple of major, massive collaborations with the creative community at agencies that have really led to a bit of a renaissance of kind of an understanding that if we don’t do that part of our job as well as we’re providing clean water, health education to kids around the world, then we’re not going to get the funding.

David Ohana: If we don’t get the funding, it’s not us in New York that suffers, it’s going to be the children we’re there to work with and for.

Mark Jones: It’s the kids, yeah.

David Ohana: So there is an understanding that if we don’t do that, we’re not going to be as relevant. If we’re not as relevant, the organisation and our work suffers. I think that’s where we are today. I think a lot of UN entities and not for profits are starting to invest a bit more time, energy and effort into marketing and brand building. I’m not for a second suggesting that money should be diverted from important programme work and it’s not, but we’re just learning to do more smarter and we’re also relying on the support of private sector that does have a bit of extra resource to help work with us on this.

Mark Jones: I want to connect three kind of circles of conversations. One is brand. PS, by the way, when will brand purpose just become brand, it’s just what brands do, right? We’re kind of getting towards that.

David Ohana: Yeah.

Mark Jones: Then we’ve got this concept broadly speaking of marketing and communications, the whole discipline. And then advertising as a discipline in itself. In your career, you’ve kind of landed on the side of brand. Are those, the two buckets that I speak about, dealt with separately within UNICEF or are they sort of within your purview as well?

David Ohana: More and more it’s all being brought together. The way UNICEF is currently set up, there’s a digital team, a brand team, a public advocacy team, strategic internal comms. So, it’s kind of a set up, like most of the traditional comm shop. But I would say, more and more of these worlds are coming together. So when you say, brand purpose is just brand, at the heart of everything we’re doing, are the brand values. We’ve seen time and time again, organisations that have strayed too far to the left or right of their brand values have suffered greatly.

David Ohana: Mark Jones: What do you believe in as it relates to a brand? What’s the value of a brand? 

David Ohana: Sure. Again, I think that the answer to that would differ slightly depending on the sector. We’re not delivering to a bottom line for shareholders at UNICEF. But I think that the very heart of a brand, it’s working out what the purpose is. So why people are turning up to work in the morning, what you’re actually working towards. I think if that is a super inspiring purpose, you’re going to attract naturally the best and brightest from around the world and you’re going to become a magnet. I think the strongest brands are the ones that good just gravitate towards naturally, both staff, customers, partners, etc. I think the best brands are ones that have a very clearly articulated brand purpose, a reason for being. And I think now, in 2019, the added part of that is the best brands on earth and the ones that are going to stand the test of time and be very profitable as well, are the ones that are showing to have a positive impact on society.

Mark Jones: On the world, yeah. Do you have any idea what the UNICEF brand is worth?

David Ohana: Do you know what, we have a team in Geneva that’s our market research team who have been amazing. All of the work that we’ve been doing on brand has been based on actual consumer insights and our global barometers. There is a piece of work that was done, because obviously UNICEF is one of the world’s most known and loved brands. Awareness is close to 95% of prompted awareness around the world, which is incredible. Popular public opinion is around 68%. But we did have this rather curious anomaly, which is where a lot of my work is grounded in, is that there was a relatively low association with UNICEF and children, which is kind of surprising. It was about 49%-

Mark Jones: Given that’s your origin.

David Ohana: Exactly.

Mark Jones: Children and women, right?

David Ohana: Right. But I guess you could look at many reasons for that. We’ve sort of became so famous. Early on, we were known as an acronym, so we kind of lost the word children out of UNICEF.

Mark Jones: Got it.

David Ohana: We did a global barometer where we do those every year in lots of markets around the world and we get the most curious feedback. There was a small percentage of folks that have seen the UNICEF logo on so many football jerseys that they thought we were a football team. All the way from UNICEF being a human rights organisation, to an environmental organisation, to just a bunch of folks who we pretty sure are doing something good somewhere on earth, but we’re just not sure what that is. That’s a massive missed opportunity for UNICEF because we want, whenever there is a crisis affecting kids around the world, which sadly are at a larger scale and happening more frequently than almost ever before,

David Ohana: We want anyone in the public who wants to help, whether that’s their time, their voice, their money that where they want us to be able to contact us. So, we’ve been driving that association home with UNICEF. We’ve just rebranded globally the organisation to UNICEF for every child where one of the days that myself and my team are working on a world children’s day. So really just driving home that association.

Mark Jones: that was where I was going to go with this was what principles do you use to steward the brand? I imagine those in the UN, the powers that be, would have a lot of opinions and views on that. So, making sure that you’re aligned would have to be a key thing. So, how do you navigate that?

David Ohana: So, it is just being a little bit more deliberate and more consistent around the message that we’re getting across to the public and it is dialling up a bit more the expertise of our frontline workers, which hadn’t been done so much before. Doing a global rebranding of any organisation is tricky. Doing one of a UN entity even more so because we have so many different stakeholders in our brand. And then, we have, the mustard, the United Nations brand, which itself they’re actually looking at at the moment in terms of some more stewardship of that because that’s been sort of tracking along by itself without essentially a full time brand team working on the stewardship of the global brands. So that’s more and more resources are coming in behind that as well.

David Ohana: But as far as I’m concerned, UNICEF does an extraordinary job, but to continue to be able to do an extraordinary job, we need the resources and funding. And to be able to do that, we need to tell the story. We have some incredible assets on the table with UNICEF. We have our goodwill ambassador team. We have over I think 300 national, regional and global goodwill ambassadors for UNICEF. I think globally there’s 32 ambassadors for the organisation. 

David Ohana: Our goodwill ambassadors have a combined social media reach of, I think a near 2 billion people. So, it’s not that difficult for us to get large reach now. Just sending out an okay campaign to millions of people doesn’t make it a better campaign. We have an incredible goodwill ambassadors who give us so much of their time and voice. We have amazing brand partners, hundreds of major global brands that support UNICEF. We have great media partners and we have one of the most compelling mandates on the planet, which is the future of children and childhoods and protecting their rights. So, with all of that on the table, the final piece of the puzzle is that singular, amazing, simple, big idea that acts as a magnet to pull those pieces together to make really transformative change for the organisation.

David Ohana: And so, that’s the bit where marketing and advertising and brand, and even if we’re squashing them together in the same thing, that’s the part of the puzzle, which the few times that they have come together at the right moment for the right reason, we can truly show impact for children above and beyond just social media reach. 

Mark Jones: That’s the elusive in sort of the highest if you like, elevation in marketing is creativity. It’s the combination of insights and data with this kind of, I don’t know, standing in the shower and it hits you, right? That’s a creative sort of dream about that thing where it all sort of gels.

David Ohana: Sure.

Mark Jones: Does it rest on you or a team? How do you bring that together?

David Ohana: We have amazing communications team at UNICEF both in New York, but right around the world. And I think the simplest way of answering that is it all starts with a really clear, well-thought through brief. So really understanding who we’re trying to reach, what we’re trying to make them think, feel and do. All the obvious stuff. So we start with that brief and then bring around that the best and brightest, the folks in the creative community that you believe are doing some of those interesting work in that space. Bring on at least one major global influencer and give them, not just … they’re not just an amplifier of the campaign, but really give them some ownership of the campaign and then throw in there, I guess the US … something unique to the UN which is often like a money can’t buy asset of the UN, and that could be access to a place or a person. So we do what the UN does do well, which has convened those things together.

David Ohana: And out of that combination we’ve seen some big successes both from public engagement and also impact. And I could give you an example of one of those if you like.

Mark Jones: Yeah, that’d be good.

David Ohana: So in 2012, I’d been in the UN for a couple of years and UN has a number of international United nations days. Sadly, most of them go by fairly unnoticed. In fact, I’ll do my research after and find out what … I’m sure today it could be an international UN day. My task at the time was to make one of these international days famous. It was August 19, and it was World Humanitarian Day. Now, these day, I was really honoured to have been given that task because this day had a strong personal significance for me. It marked the anniversary of a pretty tragic and awful day in 2003, August 19, when UN headquarters in Baghdad was destroyed by suicide bomber and 22 UN staff lost their life, including the gentleman I mentioned earlier in this discussion, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who the head of the mission in East Timor.

Mark Jones: Timor, yeah.

David Ohana: Sergio and Kofi Annan, amazing human beings at that time were definitely a major inspiration for me joining the UN in the first place. So, it was the day that marked, I guess the anniversary …

Mark Jones: Tragedy.

David Ohana: … of that tragedy. And you always want to turn tragedy into something positive. It also was a day where we wanted to shine an extra bright spotlight on humanitarian work and need right around the world. 

David Ohana: How do you make a day famous? Well, firstly, you need to get it known, you need to put a pin on the calendar, so you establish it so that in future years it becomes the day where media and partners rally behind it and you can really break through the noise barrier and run day on an issue.

David Ohana: So, we went back to that model I just shared, which is we looked at who was doing some amazing work in that space in terms of just some really smart big ideas. So, we pulled and Droga5, the advertising agency. In terms of influencer, we, at the time and still, one of the most powerful and influential voices on the planet music artist is Beyonce. And she very, very kindly and generously with her team agreed to work with us on the project. And then, the final, into the mix, that money can’t buy you an asset, in this case was a room, which is the really iconic UN General Assembly Hall. We set about a task on firstly producing a piece of iconic content, and then utilising a fairly innovative distribution approach.

David Ohana: We came up the idea of shooting a live music video in the UN General Assembly Hall with Beyonce. It was an incredibly moving event and moment in that the audience was made up of, not just representatives from around the world, but families of aid workers who had either been killed or kidnapped in the line of duty, including Sergio’s family. Sergio’s son was there. 

David Ohana: So we had this beautiful piece of content. And then, working with some technology partners, we piloted Thunderclap, which was, at the time, a new kind of social media tool for capturing everyone’s intent to support a campaign, but for blasting it out in the internet at essentially the exact same moment to try to sort of melt the internet and become instant global trending. We had some of the biggest influences on social media around the world and traditional media around the world jump in. We had unlikely bedfellows and lots of competing brands who don’t normally support the same campaigns all jumped in and supported together, like Nike and Adidas and a number of other incredible brand partners. And on the day itself, on August 19, the very simple message of do something good somewhere for someone else was shot across the internet, reached about 1.4 billion people on the day.

David Ohana: The music video has been seen over a hundred million times and it was just a really lovely way of starting to establish this day, get it on the map, and for me personally, just do something that I felt was just a humble and a small tribute to human beings that are dedicating their life to do some pretty extraordinary things.

Mark Jones: That’s an amazing story.

David Ohana: We did that campaign and we launched it. If I’m really honest, a couple of days after that, everyone was so glad that we did it and it certainly ushered in a whole bunch of new opportunity and partnerships for the organisation and people who wanted to collaborate with us. The thing that we always struggle with is it was really hard to measure that campaign against actual impact, results. So, could you say that a child was able to get access to a warm meal or go to school or the next day as a result? That’s always hard to measure when you’re just doing something with big social media reach.

Mark Jones: Well, your message also was just to do something good. You weren’t specific.

David Ohana: Correct. And it led to some remarkable, lovely stories. All of these anecdotal things started pouring in from around the world, like a woman in I think Chicago who just turned around and said she was going to buy the groceries for everyone in the queue behind her because heck, today’s World Humanitarian Day. She saw the video and she figures it’s about time she does something nice for someone else. You get those sorts of lovely stories, but we really decided with Beyonce’s team and our partners that the next time we kind of collaborated, we really wanted to do … The next project we really wanted to measure impact above and beyond just massive social reach. And that opportunity presented itself in 2017.

David Ohana: The story goes, Beyonce was at home and was watching a television and a segment came up about a small country in East Africa called Burundi. Now, the situation in Burundi is less than half the population has access to clean, safe water, which is just …

Mark Jones: Mind blowing.

David Ohana: … mind blowing in 2019, that this is still a case. What that actually leads to and means is that particularly women and girls are spending an unbelievable amount of time just walking …

Mark Jones: To get water.

David Ohana: … hours every day just to access this water. And often the water, even that they access is still not clean and is still making them, children, the communities sick. It’s just a very difficult story. So they were interviewing a pregnant woman at the time. Beyonce who was talking about the fact that, she was, not only this was having an impact on her, but on her unborn child. It just had everything. It touched something in Beyonce’s heart and reached out to a team and said, what can she do to help? It started as a project where it was working to build I think around thirty Wells on the Eastern side of the country.

David Ohana: What grew out of that was the idea and the notion of actually what would it take to help solve the water crisis in that country. That’s a project we’ve been working on ever since.

Mark Jones: And so, how did you tell that story? Did it come out in the creative for that year’s World Humanitarian Day?

David Ohana: Well, it’s interesting. It’s funny how, where some things, project start, and where they land or where they not end, because I don’t think this is the end of the story. I think this is the, hopefully a new beginning of a story, but what we hope in future years is that something that started as a massive big glitzy music video production in the UN General Assembly Hall, will end up on the other side of the world in a country in East Africa providing clean, safe water to literally millions of people, and for all intents and purposes, help change the course of history in that country. The answer to the question of what will it take to solve the water crisis, at least for the most vulnerable populations there, is about 1,300 wells and boreholes.

David Ohana: A well and a borehole costs about our $4,600 to dig and then there’s all of the associated costs around building the sustainability elements and bringing the communities around that. It’s an achievable amount. We’re hoping that we can, in the next couple of years, bridge the funding gap for that project, complete the project. And then, the aspiration is to see where we can take it from there. So already looking at that, some of the neighbouring countries. Again, it’s just incredible that just a spark of inspiration and a single human being’s idea of wanting to do something to help. And then if you bring the right partners together, and as you say, if you tell the story well, and we’re still in the process of telling the story, just what incredible, impactful outcomes can be achieved.

Mark Jones: What would your advice be then to those listening? To tie together a few interesting threads of your story is this pursuit of your personal passion, finding the best home for that, brand stewardship. We’ve talked about creativity and we’ve talked about doing really good things in the world. It kind of sounds like, I think for a lot of people, the Nirvana of one’s life’s work, right? So, what does it take to pursue that thing that’s in your heart as it were within this context of marketing and brand and story? And what does it take at a personal level to get to where you’ve gotten, and perhaps your dreams for the future. 

David Ohana: I would just say my first message would be, we need you. We need this community to rally behind and help us and help all of our partners do the jobs that we know how to do, but the story told better and resources and support to do just that. I would say it’s come full circle. You’ve heard it millions of times, but you don’t need to quit your job. It used to be you’d have to sort of quit your job and go and work in a charity in a jungle or a desert somewhere to feel like you were achieving something and making a difference in your life. We’ve come so far away from that where I would say, do the work that you’re good at and that you’re passionate about, and then find a way to use that to help create positive social impact.

David Ohana: I think particularly now it’s about staying on top of the issues. To do that well in this environment, you need to consume content on both sides of the story, even if you disagree with it. When I wake up in New York, I’ll often watch a bit of BBC, watch a bit of CNN, turnover, watch a bit of Fox, get some local radio and really try to get what both sides of an argument are talking about. Because I think at this point in time, somewhere in the middle there’s some truth I think everyone’s pulling in different directions. Finally, I would say, my simplest piece of advice is, if you have an idea that could help someone else, don’t just leave it in your head, pick up the phone, put up your hand, show up. I often think if I hadn’t made that call to the United Nations, there’s no chance that I would’ve had the opportunities that I’ve had at the UN. I’ve had the fortune with my job of going to so many countries around the world witnessing I think the best and worst of humanity.

Mark Jones: Richard Doetsch, in the Thieves of Heaven, the book, Thieves of Heaven, he talks about we all need something to believe in, and about how belief in something gives us hope that there’s something better to strive for. Just in closing, you’ve mentioned you’ve seen the best and worst of humanity. Are you hopeful? What gives you hope for making a difference?

David Ohana: I was trying to look at my passport the other day in terms of the visa stamps, in terms of the countries that I’ve been to because I used to work in emergencies and disasters at a place called OCHA, the part of the UN that focused on that. And so, we’d land somewhere immediately after something like that had happened, in Haiti and in Pakistan and in places in North Africa and others. And in those moments, and almost every travel I’ve done anywhere around the world, you just see so much more good in people than bad. And you see so many commonalities of, the amount of times I’ve sat with a mother or father or a kid and had a very similar conversation, and I could be in the most extreme, different circumstances on earth, people want just to have a good life.

David Ohana: They want things to be fair. They want the best opportunities for their children. They want to laugh, love, play, and so I think there’s so much more good in humanity than bad. I think we are facing some big problems and we’re all on one p together. If the ship goes down, it is going to affect all of us. I think there’s so many folks that have really great ideas that could help people. I think the tragedy right now would be that they just stay as unrealized ideas. 

David Ohana: So, you talk about another way that people can get involved, I would say another big international UN day that’s coming up, another very close to my heart is November, 20, World Children’s Day. It’s UNICEF’s global day of action for children by children. It’s the whole idea of kids taking over. So in the same theme of speaking out and standing up, it’s all about young people getting an opportunity to share the issues most pressing of their generation and about us adults standing aside and giving them a platform, the microphone, the opportunity to do just that. So, as I said, put up your hand, pick up the phone and show up.

Mark Jones: David, I really appreciate your perspective. That is a wonderful, upbeat, full note to close on, and I’ve really, really appreciated your insights. It’s rare to meet someone who’s had such a breadth of experiences, particularly in the marketing brand building game and be able to bring it all together in an interesting narrative. So, thank you so much for being a guest on the CMO Show today, and all the best with UNICEF and building a brand and changing the lives meaningfully for kids and moms around the world.

David Ohana: My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Mark Jones: I hope you enjoyed my conversation with David. In reflecting on our chat, I really liked his point about how purpose-driven organisations like UNICEF form brand partnerships with organisations that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Of course, we’ve touched on this idea before with other episodes, like the one with Yves Calmette from WWF, and that was all about how you can come together and figure out what the two partners are good at and how you can combine forces.

Mark Jones: I also liked this other idea. The quote was: “The most powerful use of creativity and big ideas, resources and partnerships is when you apply them to solving challenges.” So, why don’t you tell me? I’d love to know what’s a challenge you want to solve, what can you bring to the table and, perhaps, what partners do you need? What sectors or what areas? What extra ideas need to come to the table?

Mark Jones: Thank you for joining us for another episode of The CMO Show. It’s been great. I love hearing from you, I love getting messages. Who doesn’t? Please do also follow and tweet us @thecmoshow and all the social media channels, and your content and your podcast aggregators of choice. Until next time.

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