CANNES — Merck has unveiled a new corporate purpose initiative, designed to tackle the growing challenges posed by life expectancy and ageing.

The WE100 platform, which Merck launched at Cannes, builds from research which demonstrates how some societies are struggling to address the issues posed by ageing populations, while others still require a significant increase in life expectancy.

In an interview with the Holmes Report, Merck Consumer Health CMO Atilla Cansun explained that the initiative is a "neutral brand" that is not intended to build the Merck business. Merck is setting aside seed funding for a range of projects, designed to focus on such areas as older people finding jobs, improving life expectancy in Africa, and managing healthcare challenges as people get older.

"My intention is to establish a neutral brand called WE100, designed for anyone, where we can bring a lot of upside potential for life quality," said Cansun. "We didn’t want, from a brand building perspective, Merck Consumer Health to overshadow WE100."

Merck arrived at the specific projects after polling their popularity with thousands of people around the world. They also found that 80% of respondents think society dramatically needs to change its attitude towards ageing, and 93% think children are not well enough educated to live a long, healthy life.

In addition, 80% think they will have lower chances to find a job when they are 50+ vs those younger, and 95% think they will not be supported by government to participate in society after retirement.

"Society separates the youngest from the oldest," said Cansun. "I would love to be able to recruit as early as 15-years-old and as late as 80-year-olds to have that insight from people who can walk in the shoes of people who are out there."

Cansun, a former P&G marketer, also noted that involving people in the project's genesis and progress would aim to ensure that he would not need to "spend $1bn to make a buzz".

"95% of these things have fizzled away," admitted Cansun. "Unless you can share it beyond a few 100 people at Cannes, it just fades away. This won’t go anywhere unless people wholeheartedly believe in it."

The initiative follows a six-month effort, working with Ogilvy, to redefine Merck's corporate brand. Weber Shandwick is also providing PR support.

"I don’t want to make this a commercial deal," said Cansun. "Our financial planning has nothing to do with WE100, aside from investing in it to get it out of its infancy and give it legs."

Cansun would not disclose how much Merck is investing in WE100 but noted that Merck invests 20% of its $1bn sales in marketing and brand-building.

"There may have been one before, but it wasn’t capturing the essence of what’s in the DNA of the company," said Cansun of Merck's previous cause marketing efforts. "The company is seen as a silent giant. The past six to nine months has been about how do we grasp this visually and verbally, and ignite a movement that will help out millions and billions."

Cansun also noted that the initiative was important for Merck to distinguish itself from other healthcare and consumer companies.

"It’s very fundamental in 2016 for everybody to know in what they are doing, the why," he said. "People are outgrowing transactions. Definitely the new ones are not excited about the salary. They are excited about other views on life."

"When you talk to new graduates they have a more reserved and cautious view of the corporate life — they are asking why I should be choosing you rather than another one of the 10 consumer companies out there," continued Cansun. "On a human level it does make a huge difference for a company like Merck Consumer Health. We can only stick out if our employees are more motivated, more energised and more creative. Working with their hearts rather than their minds."