Cannes Lions

Code and Response

IBM, New York / IBM / 2019

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Natural disasters are occurring globally more rapidly than ever before. More than $7 trillion USD in economic damage and 8 million deaths were caused by natural disasters since the start of the 20th Century. Making communities more resilient has never been more critical.

IBM has always taken a progressive stance about building a smarter planet. In 1965 IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr. declared “We want to be at the forefront of those companies which are working to make our world a better place.” We had a perception problem with the future leaders of technology: the coders. Years of advertising to them was not working, we needed a new path forward.

We knew coders were concerned about the future and often spent time on side projects giving back to society. Maybe there was a way to bond through shared experiences and beliefs while making the world a better place?


Film Title: Code & Response. (75 minutes runtime)

Log Line: Coders rise in the wake of natural disasters to help first responders save lives.

2018 was the worst year on record for natural disasters. Code & Response is a film that takes us into the heart of the aftermath of some of those disasters as we meet the first responders who are overpowered without technology. The film then follows four coders from around the world (Japan, Puerto Rico, California and Mexico) as we learn about why they are getting involved and what technologies they are building to help first responders save lives and communities rebuild.


The idea was conceived months away from the next superstorm season. To launch in 2-months we adopted the methodologies of our coders: Agile standups and iteration.

We knew our target audience (18-34 y/o coders) were passionate about coding for “good” but they were not united against climate change or in support of first responders. We formed a partnership consortium to get scale and rally behind the key message to “join the call for code” and later to “put ideas into action”.

We also knew that over 80% of our target block ads and distrust advertising. But they pay for and love content. So we focused on education and storytelling. We adopted a documentary-style and casted the coders as the talent versus actors. We created 90% of our content in-house because we are coders. We even created a 75 min documentary to show at events and distribute via streaming platforms.


May: CEO announced the initiative in her Keynote at VivaTech. Given the negative stories around Facebook at the time, we really stood out in the press and with the public.


We hosted 400 local hackathons and education sessions at universities and towns impacted by disasters. We partnered with The Clinton Foundation, David Clark Cause, American Red Cross and the United Nations to scale the initiative.

As solutions were developed, we worked with media (i.e. Wired) to showcase the coders/solutions and keep the momentum building. We used paid and owned to amplify the best media stories.

We used influencers in the IT space and content marketing to amplify the call to join the movement and it went viral on World Humanitarian Day.

We used the hackathon to source stories for mini-docs and to cast our feature-length documentary that was screened for over 300 IT professionals at our largest annual event.


A brand with a purpose that unites a community around a cause can change perceptions and help change the world. We reached over 908 million people during World Humanitarian day. Our content and communications approach had 1.1 billion social engagements. Our target loved our documentary storytelling and rated it 4.9 out of 5.0 when we screened our films at our largest event. And over 100,000 coders from 156 nations joined the movement.

Through focusing on the long-term, IBM will thrive another 100 years. That said, we grew from 700k to over 2 million coders on our platform in 2018 and IBM returned to growth for the first time in years with exponential growth in revenue from developers.

We were named World-Changing Company of the year by Fast Company Magazine and Code and Response, the Movie, has been accepted into film festivals around the country, with distribution forthcoming.

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