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Is this the end of purpose driven ads or a new beginning?

March 7, 2013 Comments

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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I noticed the article by Rance Crain in Forbes this week in which he questioned whether the end of purpose driven ad is nigh because “none of it worked.” While Crain lays out the case “for” and “against” I would like to add some thoughts to the debate.

First, there is an implicit presumption that purpose-driven ads are a fad that will come and go like any cyclical marketing trend. I contend we cannot turn back purpose driven ads any more than we can turn back the internet, social media or smart phones. The reason is that these new technologies have shifted marketing from a monologue to a dialogue in which marketers need to listen, draw in customers and share the ownership of their brands.

One might still argue that the purpose driven ads may disappear as the economy improves and we drift back to the excessive mindset that led to the global ecomonic meltdown in 2008. This, however, would ignore the density of research to the contrary including Edelman’s 2012 GoodPurpose Report, Havas Media’s Meaningful Brands Report, and TBWA’s Global Millennial study. These reports reveal that global consumers expect brands play a more meaningful role in social impact and that this expectation is on the rise because today’s customer is better informed, media-savvy and more distrustful than ever after the global economic crisis of 2008. What’s more, Millennials demonstrate a fundamental expectation that brands must contribute to society if they are to maintain their social licence to operate.

Crain implies, however, that many purpose driven ads by large brands like P&G are mere tactics to win consumer support either at the mandate of the CEO or simply to curry favor with consumers. Yet with so many cases of causewashing and greenwashing and with such militant consumer pushback against disingenuous brands these days, I don’t believe the CEO’s or CMO’s of such successful corporations are either that cynical or uninformed. Rather, these companies are genuinely struggling to upgrade the practices and mindsets based on old profit centers, business models and traditional media, and start to genuinely tell the story of what they stay for in ways that connect with customers.

Perhaps Crain comes closest to the truth when he quotes Alfredo Gangotena, the chief marketing officer of MasterCard World Wide, who told Sports Business Journal:

“You see many brands doing good with cause-related marketing, but honestly, if the cause they are involved in is not fundamental to their brand, what good does it do? Brands are like humans. You can see quickly if they’re faking it.”

Without an authentic alignment between who a brand is and how it markets itself, no matter of  stated good intentions will resonate with employees or consumers. What’s more, a brand must go beyond merely stating its good intentions and demonstrate its authentic commitment to them. Only then will wary customers become true brand advocates that share the story and mission of brand with others.

My final thought addresses the issue that purpose driven ads should be judged by how quickly they get results. This presumption ignores the fact that brands must now invest in relationships with customer rather than facilitate transactions. This is no small task,  especially on the scale of a company like P&G, and appropriate time should be given to allow large and influential brands to re-to0l their internal structures, systems and roles to reflect the new social business marketplace and its marketing drivers.

I do agree with Crain that an important phase may be ending but its not the era of purpose driven ads. Rather it’s the end of superficial attempts to hijack purpose to merely serve the bottom line. As such its the beginning of purposeful marketing in which brands tell authentic and meaningful stories about the good they are doing to ways that genuinely inspire greater customer goodwill, loyalty and sales.

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One response to “Is this the end of purpose driven ads or a new beginning?”

  1. Carolyn Butler-Madden says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more Simon. Once brands start working with their consumers to create positive social outcomes, how can you possibly go backwards to a monologue relationship? And why would you? It’s a shame that Crain appears to focus on brands who superficially leverage cause partnerships. Even more a shame that he chooses to assume that companies like P&G only run cause campaigns to curry favour with consumers. I’ve been talking to senior marketers in Australia about Cause Related Marketing and when they see case studies like Pampers 1 pack = 1 vaccine, they understand that they can achieve great marketing results and do social good at the same time. You can almost see a light switch go on in their head and they get excited. NOT just because they see a strategy that they can potentially build their brand on, but because they can also create positive social impact. Why wouldn’t they be excited and inspired? It’s a win-win. If more companies could understand the power that they have to do well by doing good, we might be able to start contributing solutions to more of the world’s problems.

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Simon Mainwaring

Reading Time: 1 minutesSimon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.

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