Case study: AIB – Backing a Sustainable Future

AIB are focused on helping their clients build a sustainable business. They see banking as the bedrock of building a sustainable business. To deliver on their brand promise, AIB asked Cogs & Marvel to organise a conference on sustainability as the bedrock of their burgeoning social license with the Irish people. The goal? To help customers meet their dreams and ambitions by providing them with a sustainable bank with a social conscience supporting a sustainable business.


The ‘S’ Word
Sustainability is seen as one of those worthy words; dull and indecipherable. It screams green credentials: separate waste, save the planet, switch off lights. All good things in themselves, but hardly a major box office draw for busy business people! Everyone gets “sustainability” is essential for a safer world (even if they can’t define exactly what it means). Most of us would happily have it on our nice-to-do list. But, to business, it’s a cost, not an opportunity. Cogs & Marvel needed a twist – a way of reframing sustainability to see it as a vital element in business growth – or no one would show up.

Who wants to live forever?
Our strategy played on the idea of mortality; an idea that would get businesspeople to sit up and pay attention! By skating past the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of sustainability and concentrating on the ‘why’ – the long, long-term business benefits – we could encourage senior executives to consider building a business with a lasting footprint that impacts beyond bonuses, dividends, and three-year business plans – one that would be still going strong long after they were gone. Because that’s what sustainability really means: building a business to outlast its founders. It’s what the greats were doing, around their kitchen tables, excitedly creating their vision for what would be Google, Virgin, and Apple.

This lead us to our inception moment (or inception place): the kitchen table.

Pop the kettle on
Many a business has been hatched at a kitchen table. Jobs and Wozniak burnt midnight oil and toast, driven not just to make a living, but to make a difference for mankind; passion and vision colliding in a thermonuclear desire to become not just a household name but to have their name in every household way into the future. The kitchen table is a potent symbol of the why of being in business at all – it’s where the bread that’s won is eaten, it’s where the family congregate, it’s a node on the web of community, of society. It’s also where much of the real stuff of life lives – it’s the boardroom of life. It is the foundation for growth and sustainability.


Turning the Tables
We wanted to create a strong visual cue for our guests and speakers to show this conference was different and how AIB view sustainability differently. We wanted the setting to literally be part of the message. To do this, we created a full kitchen set, complete with working fridge, kettle, and kitchen table for speakers to use and interact with. Our guests sat in the half round, part of our kitchen. No corporate staging, no lectern, no unnecessary technology was built into the room; this could have been any home in the country (with a few more seats around the dinner table than most).

The challenge in executing this was to align all the details to the intent. We briefed all the speakers – including AIB CEO Bernard Byrne, AIB Chairman Richard Pym, industry leaders including SAP CEO Bill McDermott, and sustainability entrepreneurs Josephine Fairley and Ayesha Khanna – on the narrative we’d created so they could focus their contributions. We hid confidence monitors in among the seats. We had a team posting to social media platforms rather than asking the attendees to – we wanted their heads up, not down. We installed fridges (with magnets and notepads) in the social spaces, as a means to engage with the conversation. Notes posted to the fridges formed part of the subsequent conversation – in the room and after the event.


A recipe for success
Our goal was to start a conversation around sustainability. This isn’t something that’s effects can be measured in one day but in the wisdom implemented into business plans for the next 10, 50, and 100 years. To genuinely reframe the conversation around sustainability, AIB couldn’t simply assert that they have changed – they needed to generate a trust in their brand promise with their customers and the broader community. Bringing the leaders of Irish banking into a room with their customers, we succeeded in creating the environment for that conversation to begin.

There was a level of relaxed engagement in the room that rose from the intimate atmosphere that the set design created. Audience members spontaneously commented and asked questions throughout the panel discussions, inspired by the setting, allowing the content to develop organically.

An important part of the set design was creating it as a real working kitchen. We got the leaders of global corporations making tea in an Irish kitchen while they dealt with the hard questions about business, housing, and all the other issues that impact on the lives of their customers. This helped to create the sense that this was not an off the shelf conference package but a once in a lifetime experience that would reframe how the guests approached their business planning going forward.



The Proof is in the Pudding
Throughout the day,  #backedbyAIB trended number two on Twitter. Most of the postings featured our unique setting and specifically referenced it in the context of the message of the event.

AIB CEO, Bernard Byrne, said it was the most exciting presentation he’d ever given, in a truly unique setting that served to focus everyone’s attention on how AIB was reframing sustainability.


At Cogs & Marvel, we believe that every time you get a group of people together, whether they be staff, customers, partners or consumers, you have an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with you. You have an opportunity to turn passive admirers into an army of advocates for your corporate brand. Cogs & Marvel is an event agency that creates brand experiences to delight in the moment and inspire lasting change.

Want to inspire change in your audience? Get in touch with the Cogs & Marvel team.