Purpose isn't cause marketing—how to know the difference
Purpose has become important: 95 percent of presentations at last year’s Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing conference referenced brand purpose, according to a recent speaker at another ANA conference.
An ANA spokesman couldn’t confirm that figure, but the group did create a Center for Brand Purpose shortly after last year’s big show. The ANA now has its own 56-page brand purpose playbook, but there’s still some confusion among marketers.
What purpose is and isn’t
Clearly you can’t know a brand’s purpose just by its name or products or ads. Take Pornhub. It’s now about more than just becoming the world’s foremost facilitator of autoerotic fulfillment. It’s also on a stated mission to save bees from extinction. Earlier this year, Pornhub hired agency BETC to create a “Beesexual” channel to support the Center for Honeybee Research.
This might be a sign that brand purpose is getting out of hand. Too many people have conflated it with cause marketing, sometimes linking brands with causes that don’t clearly fit, says Jim Stengel, former chief marketer at Procter & Gamble. Perhaps more than anyone, Stengel has made brand purpose a staple at marketing conferences, and he has
been a consultant helping numerous other brands find purpose.
“It’s not cause marketing,” Stengel says of brand purpose. “It’s the core principle of your company. If it’s not multifunctional, multidisciplinary, embraced by the CEO, something people talk about, measure and put in performance reviews, it’s not going to work. If it starts in marketing, stays in marketing, becomes a slogan, a tagline, a nice campaign, it’s going to die.”
A 2017 Interbrand survey showed brands with a purpose focused on improving consumers’ quality of life outperform the stock market by 120 percent.
Just Do It
Nike, whose purpose is summed up in its tagline “Just Do It,” is one of the strongest examples of making purpose work as a foundation of a brand, Stengel says, notably of late for its Colin Kaepernick campaign. Nike’s more fully articulated brand purpose is: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
Another purpose all-star Stengel points to is CVS, which put its money where its health-focused purpose was by removing cigarettes from its stores. Unilever also gets high marks, Stengel says, for its corporate embrace of environmental sustainability and for brands like Dove, with its clear focus on women’s self-esteem and challenging beauty stereotypes.
A new purpose from an old one
Unilever recently started up a new brand with Right to Shower—a line of bath products launched in Whole Foods and online—that is giving all of its first-year profits (and substantial amounts thereafter) to groups that provide mobile showers for homeless people. It’s not a permanent condition, notes Laura Fruitman, co-founder and general manager of Right to Shower, adding that access to showers can help some people get jobs and homes.
Unilever was a natural fit to do something about this because “we were founded in 1890 on this mission of making cleanliness commonplace,” Fruitman says. “But there are 550,000 people living on the street in the U.S. who don’t have access to cleanliness because they don’t have a place to get clean.”
Digging into the archives
Often, brand purpose is finding what was there all along and amplifying it. Such was the case when Walmart launched its “Save Money. Live Better.” tagline in 2008 that came from an archived speech founder Sam Walton gave in 1992, says Stephen Quinn, former Walmart U.S. chief marketing officer.
“At the time [of the new tagline], there was a fairly big backlash against Walmart being this giant company,” Quinn says. “The company was looking for a higher purpose beyond low prices, which was quite transactional.” The tagline helped people inside and outside Walmart see the point of efforts to drive down retail prices, Quinn says. It spawned marketing efforts quantifying how much money Walmart saved customers and also became an internal organizing principle.
In similar fashion, Clorox Co. has focused ads for its namesake brand in recent years on what clean really means, says CMO Stacey Grier. “Clean makes us better as people,” Grier says. “Clean sheets help us sleep better. Clean kitchens make us eat better. Kids in clean rooms are able to focus more and do better in school.”
The bottom line
The key to purpose is recalling its, well, purpose. “Purpose-led brand communications is not just a matter of ‘make them cry, make them buy,’” Unilever CEO Alan Jope said last week at Cannes. “It’s about action in the world.”