The Purpose of Purpose

We’ve been working on a pitch for a brand which has purpose at its very heart.

First and foremost, the chance to be part of this “purpose is the new cool” movement is invigorating and provides the belief that we can contribute positively to society in some way.

As the saying goes “Don’t tell my mother I’m in advertising, she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.”

A climate of disrespect has emerged between brands and consumers when we (as consumers) are treated as commodities.

To counter the smell of bullshit the tricks of advertising are no longer wholly reliable.

In turn there is a growing awareness that brands need to give more than they take. The new mentality is for companies to reveal themselves at a core level to show what they stand for. Some call it story-doing, others call it becoming the story, a story told through action.

Numerous companies in multiple sectors are/have built successful businesses and brands through becoming the story. From start-ups that begin with a new idea and a clean slate to multinationals that need to do the difficult but necessary work of restructuring themselves to behave in the new way.

Examples might include Toms (a company that matches every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need. One for One. This simple concept has evolved into a powerful business model that helps address need and advance health, education and economic opportunity for children and their communities around the world), Ben & Jerry’s (taking a stance on social justice, the environment and a fair global economy), BC (sustainable clean, delicious, nourishing food that is full of goodness for body and soul), Patagonia (helping to protect the very environments that their customers value), Zappos (practicing what they preach…be the good you want to see in the world), P&G’s Always (san-pro brand which challenged gender stereotypes) and Unilever’s Dove (self-esteem project.)

With the average attention span for advertising close to that of a goldfish most campaigns are inevitably caught in a blizzard of distractions, so providing real value/purpose is a more defensive position than relying on people having nothing better to look at.

With a clearly defined purpose, transcending shareholder value or maximising profits, it’s possible to create intense loyalty among customers and employees alike, very often with much less reliance on paid for media.

On the flipside, there are brands that seem to be using purpose in place of any other option for their communications and missing the mark.

A great article penned by freelance creative strategist, Zac Martin published here in Mumbrella, claims that many marketers and advertisers turn to purpose marketing, because they’re embarrassed about cold, hard selling.   To them, he states, selling is dirty.

So, because advertising purely for commercial means is dirty, the industry has started looking for causes to fight and own in communications to make marketers feel good.

All well and good but credibly the cause must fit the brand to be effective.

Zac rightly questions brands like Corona fighting for less plastic in the ocean and AirBnB aligning themselves with the marriage equality debate, being ‘off-brand’.  As a result, this advertising becomes flimsy with consumers seeing through it as just another way to sell stuff.

If your brand is born from purpose or has a natural affinity with a cause, it can be a great tool to use to truly engage consumers with your brand.

But brands beware. Purpose clearly isn’t always going to be the answer and best to pop the bullshit meter on to check before diving headlong into using purpose to engage.


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