Brand purpose has been a mainstay of marketing for more than a decade. But new research suggests people generally don’t make strong connections between brands and a positive impact on social issues.
The latest results from research firm GfK’s Purpose Impact Monitor survey found that more than half of U.S. consumers couldn’t spontaneously identify any brands or companies making a positive difference in any of three key areas—the environment, diversity and inclusion, and giving back to the community.
What’s more, brands that did the best in unprompted mentions weren’t ones that necessarily focus heavily on environmental, diversity or community impact in their advertising. They were generally well-established, big-spending brands that have high awareness anyway, which tends to benefit brands in any kind of recall survey, said Eric Villain, managing director of marketing effectiveness for GfK North America.
Combined with other recent research from CivicScience suggesting people care less about brands' social stands than they did a few years ago, the GfK research calls into question whether purpose marketing as practiced today is working. Marketers conflating cause marketing with purpose marketing may be part of the problem, and purpose messages closely linked to what a brand makes or does may have far more impact.
Read more: The difference between purpose and cause marketing
Amazon, the biggest U.S. advertiser per the Ad Age Datacenter and which last year set an industry record with $20 billion in advertising and promotional spending, also got the most unprompted mentions from the 2,024 GfK respondents for positive associations on environmental (174), diversity (298) and community (193) issues. Walmart came in at No. 2 in the latter two categories and No. 3 behind Tesla on the environment. Target, Google and Apple were among others that rated well in one or more categories.