illycaffé A Small Section of the World

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Founded in 1933, family-run Italian coffee company illycaffè (illy) considers respect for the environment and the people who nurture coffee a fundamental part of doing business.

This principle has been put into practice every day for decades. It’s evidenced by illy’s Università del caffè (University of Coffee), where hands-on instruction is provided at no cost to coffee growers, and in the above-market prices illy guarantees to growers who meet its quality standards. These efforts were recognised when independent arbiter DNV (Det Norske Veritas) conferred its first-ever global Responsible Supply Chain Process Certification on illy in 2011.

illy wanted to tell the story behind this endeavour, in order to continue communicating its key brand attributes to stakeholders around the world, as part of its ongoing branded content marketing strategy. illy’s technology and quality attributes had already been conveyed in the documentary ‘Megafabbriche –

illy’ (Mega-factories) with National Geographic; and its passion and heritage attributes in the TV series ‘Artisti del Gusto’ (Artists of Taste), also on National Geographic.

In 2013, illy joined forces with GreenLight Media & Marketing to communicate the third brand pillar in the series: sustainability.


illy agronomists are in contact with many people as they travel the world for work, and they often bring back extraordinary stories. One such story struck a chord with illy’s sustainability efforts – and raised awareness of the fact that, while 70% of the world’s coffee is grown and harvested by women, only 15% have leadership positions in the business.

In the 1990s, the remote farming area around the village of Biolley in Costa Rica was devastated by a coffee crisis and a global recession. After the men of the village left to find work elsewhere, a group of 19 women banded together and formed ASOMOBI (The Association of Organized Women of Biolley), a cooperative with a mission to develop local production and management skills, and ultimately to realise a prosperous and sustainable future for their community.

After many setbacks, ASOMOBI eventually managed to build a small coffee mill – the first ever run by women in Costa Rica. Within a few seasons, after a lot of hard work and the help of the only female coffee exporter in the country, they had learned enough to process high-quality coffee. And they’ve been selling it to illy ever since. Typically, around 90% of ASOMOBI’s income is reinvested in the

community, which has further helped transform people’s lives.

With illy on board as executive producer and backer, GreenLight put together an award- winning team to do justice to this inspiring story, creating a documentary entitled ‘A Small Section of the World’. The film follows the impact of the ASOMOBI tale of perseverance as it touches lives around the globe, and shows how this resourceful group of women overcame enormous difficulties to change the culture within their small section of the world.

Lesley Chilcott, who produced the Academy Award-winning documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, directed the film.

During production, having noticed the rhythmic sounds of the bean picking and coffee milling, Lesley discussed the idea of music with the crew. They suggested involving renowned Costa Rican music artist and Grammy winner Carlos ‘Tapado’ Vargas in the film. Multi- Grammy winner and best-selling female rock performer of all time Alanis Morissette was also inspired by the ASOMOBI story. She contributed an original song – ‘The Morning’ – co-written with and composed by Tapado.

A Small Section of the World dedicated website was created to host all the content from the project, including news about women in the world of coffee.


The illy brand remained in the background, allowing A Small Section of the World to speak for itself.

The film trailer was made available online and advertised via digital banner ads. A film poster was created to promote cinema screenings, and a comprehensive PR campaign incorporated interviews and panel discussions with Lesley Chilcott.

The world premiere of the film took place in October 2014 at the Woodstock Film Festival, and the film premiered in Costa Rica in November 2014. It also featured at several

other film festivals, including the Savannah Film Festival, the Indie Memphis Film Festival and the documentary film festival DOC NYC. Special screenings took place at the US State Department and the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. In addition, the film enjoyed week- long theatrical runs in LA and New York.

The film has been broadcast on TV in 40 countries, including the Sundance Channel in the US on Pivot TV. Global VOD distribution involved all major digital platforms: Netflix, Amazon, Playstation, XBOX, iTunes, Google Play and more. A DVD is available on Amazon.

The music video about the making of The Morning was also launched in November 2014 and the song is available for US$1.29 from Spotify, iTunes and Spinshop. People are encouraged to buy it in the knowledge that sales proceeds are matched by the Ernesto Illy Foundation. All funds then go towards expanding the opportunities available to women who want to advance themselves in the world of coffee, including the provision of scholarships for women around the world to earn a Master in Coffee and Economic Sciences degree.




A Small Section of the World represents an ambitious branded entertainment project for illy, taking 15 months from planning through production to launch. Unlike traditional communications campaigns, the film has a very long life and will be seen by millions more people over the coming years.

The award-winning team involved in the project ensured the high quality of the film and increased interest in viewing it.

By associating itself with the true story of women who overcame adversity to build a business and a future for themselves and their families, illy has conveyed the ethical, long- term, direct relationships it has with coffee growers and its leadership in sustainability.

We used a branded content marketing approach because it can communicate complex concepts, although it should always follow these basic rules: the content must be real and honest, the presence or involvement of the brand must be declared, and creativity must be of a high standard in order to entertain and excite.

A Small Section of the World tells an inspirational, true story about real people – it embodies the spirit of the effort required to achieve sustainability.

Paolo Bonsignore, Marketing Director, illy

Film premiere poster

This case study was originally published in the 2015 Global of Edition of Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM), co-edited by Justin Kirby and Greta MacFarlane.

About the author

Justin Kirby is a consultant, educator and thought leader with a 20+ year career in industry as a digital strategist, producer and entrepreneur. He chairs and speaks at conferences around the globe, judge industry awards, and advise brands and agencies.