Last week, the creative industries gathered in Cannes for a week-long festival of the best brand work out there.

Spotify was crowned the first ever Media Brand of the Year, an accolade that until now was Media Person of the Year. The shift from honouring an individual to honouring an entire company demonstrates first-hand the power of brands.

Girl Effect was created by arguably the most famous brand on the planet. As an independent creative non-profit we have retained our unique heritage and belief in the power of brands as a force to change the world.

But our approach, to use brands to solve global problems, is pioneering for the development sector. While the private sector knows that brands, along with digital media and technology, can shape consumer behaviour, evidence that this idea is equally applicable to development is hard to come by.

Part of our remit therefore is to consistently evaluate our brands, and to make sure our creativity and expertise is backed by solid and robust evidence.

In short we instinctively know branding works, but it’s also on us to prove that branding works.

Back in 2013, we launched Ni Nyampinga in Rwanda – the country’s first ever youth brand. Today, it reaches 79 per cent of the country’s population and has been championed by organisations like UNICEF. It’s made up of a magazine, a radio drama and talk show, a network of clubs, digital channels and a SMS and phone service.

Our latest data from the most established of our youth brands, has confirmed that its ‘brand effect’ is as relevant to the development sector as it is to consumer. It has proved that a brand can become such a trusted source of information that girls are more likely to act on advice from a brand than they are from a doctor.

We’ve seen this first hand. Our work with Gavi, the vaccine alliance, for example uses the power of our brands to help boost uptake of the HPV vaccine among adolescent girls.

This partnership approach is incredibly powerful, because our brands don’t work in silos along themes like health or education, but focus on a girl’s agency. We believe improving a girl’s self-esteem and confidence is essential to long-term change. Our partners come to us with a development goal such as improving health or education, and we connect them with an engaged and empowered audience and show them how to find the services they need.

When it comes to the magic formula for a what makes a great brand, we’ve learned a huge amount with Ni Nyampinga.

We’ve confirmed that audiences need to be able to get involved with our brands on several channels.. All of our brands are multi-product with a mix of magazines, music, radio drama, talk show and digital platforms as well as offline clubs. Our research also shows that the more products a person gets involved with, the more powerful the impact of the brand. When we visit Rwanda to meet girls we read or listen to Ni Nyampinga, we are always struck by their passion for the brand. One girl journalist described it as ‘a belief’.

Girl Effect has learned a huge amount from youth brand, Ni Nyampinga

The more girls interact with our brands, the more they trust them. This means that topics that are difficult to talk about, such as health, vaccination and sexual health, are less intimidating when they are coming from our brands, and more likely to inspire action.

We have also discovered a more unexpected effect of our brands: they can influence not just the girls they are created to reach, but also other people in those girls lives. After overhearing Ni Nyampinga radio shows, or reading the magazine, boys and adults also changed their attitudes to gender equality.

This all helps our brands develop and progress in the future. We’ve used what we learned from Ni Nyampinga and Yegna, our Ethiopian youth brand, to launch Zathu in Malawi.

Zathu is our youngest brand. It has been active for just one year but is already showing incredibly promising signs of having a deep impact on attitude and behaviour change.

In the future we will continue to evaluate our brands to answer more nuanced questions. These include identifying the optimal product mix for a brand – to cut wastage and make sure all products ‘pull their weight’ – and pinpointing what specific aspects of the brand have the most impact. It could be the brand’s visual identity, the characters, the storylines or a mix of all of these.

We’re looking forward to continuing to learn how to refine and improve our brands to create a better future for girls, and for everyone.

Learn more about Girl Effect’s youth brands