Brand purpose needs to adapt and change. Most campaigns and initiatives are generic and superficial. Creativity, storytelling and being helpful are what’s needed. Winning at purpose is like a child trying to catch a pigeon. When you think you almost have it, the pigeon jumps a foot forward and looks dumbfounded at you.
In the early 1990s, United Colors of Benetton was trailblazing a new way of advertising fashion to young people globally with its provocative campaigns, such as the white baby breastfeeding from a black mother. The brand lost out to faster-moving brands and didn’t succeed in reinventing its messaging as the diversity agenda moved to the mainstream.
As climate change awareness grew, other fast-fashion brands such as H&M quickly usurped it with environmentally conscious collections and initiatives. Today, Benetton is a shadow of its former values-driven self. It even still operates in Russia, according to research by Yale University.
It’s dangerous to rest on your purpose laurels. Ben & Jerry’s is the Al Gore of the ice cream market: an early and vocal advocate for change. Ben & Jerry’s resounding mission is to create “the best possible ice cream in the nicest possible way”. But nice and best is not static. As more organic-community-oriented-locally-owned-direct- trade-vegan and whatever-else-do-good-words-we-can-add ice cream brands are popping up on every street corner, can Ben & Jerry’s fight off competition? You can choose locally sourced, high-quality fresh ice cream or one owned by a multi-national.
No doubt historically Ben & Jerry’s has owned the value-driven ice cream space thanks to its vocal advocacy on climate and diversity issues, but as the FMCG market becomes increasingly flooded with similar statements, Ben & Jerry’s risks drowning in a sea of sameness. Ben & Jerry’s campaigns lack the creative punch and ingenuity that other Unilever brands like Dove have mastered. Recent years seem like a marketing
playbook on repeat.
Creativity is key in a cluttered purpose market
In an increasingly competitive market, it’s getting more difficult to cut through with a value-based approach. Creativity is essential for success. A study found advertising that puts people as agents of change rather than touting your brand’s achievements is better
at cutting through the noise.
Topics such as environment, diversity and climate change have become talking points for brands. It’s no wonder people are growing tired and increasingly sceptical towards many purpose efforts, often seen as cheap marketing tactics.
There’s a genuine lack of education and understanding of complex sustainability issues, instead, a plethora of introductions to climate change seemingly designed for kindergarten. Find the David Attenborough within you and suddenly an ant can be a story of life and death.
For example, French supermarket giant Carrefour prompted conversation and accelerated laws protecting biodiversity with its campaign ‘Black Supermarket’, which highlighted a law prohibiting the sale of the majority of the fruit and vegetables grown.
From naval-gazing preacher to life coach
Yet, creativity alone is not the answer. In an evolving post-purpose market, values or actions are not enough. It’s a continuous push to help people live better lives. Think about it. With all these good-intended promises from brands, what brand has in fact succeeded in creating positive change in your life?
If brands want to play a meaningful role, it begin with a stringent focus on positive transformation. Who can you help us become? There are brands that, rather than putting on the hero’s cape, have turned people into the heroes of the narrative: helping us discover a better version of ourselves.
Listen to your audience
Most brands enjoy the sound of their own voice. They hardly listen to their audience. In fact, many brands jump on whatever their social listening tells them people care about. Purpose vanguard brands like Corona and Dove have stayed relevant through two decades by helping us discover the value of our oceans and beaches, or by constantly challenging ideals of beauty. They have been consistent over more than a decade, yet have evolved creativity and continued to offer fresh insight. Most brands end up jumping on whatever their social listening tells them people care about.
There are three key takeaways if you want to stay relevant in the purpose space. Firstly, understanding the purpose is not a destination. You need to look at people’s dreams, fears and aspirations. Secondly, take inspiration from ‘Find David Attenborough’ and tell great stories. Lastly, don’t focus on your why and values, but on who you can help people become.
If you or your brand focus on people’s challenges, aspirations or dreams, you will stay relevant rather than being stuck with values that at one time seemed progressive, but now feel out of step with the times.
As the market becomes more competitive, there is no space for loud-purpose parrots. We need brands that can keep moving forward with customers as they chase a better version of themselves.