Opinion: Why can't a brand's purpose just be a product that works?
These days, it feels like every brand has adopted a socially worthy purpose. This wasn’t just a pandemic thing, although it was certainly accelerated by loads of brands trying to be exceptionally meaningful during lockdown. It’s a longer-term trend in an ad industry that seems to think every brand needs to be socially worthy and globally important. And it’s kind of exhausting.
Purpose was created as the antidote to a lack of real product differentiation, designed to let brands have a more robust conversation, stand for something greater than themselves and emotionally connect in a deeper way. Because it’s become so universally applied, purpose is driving a real sea of sameness downstream in the creative work, oftentimes leaving us numb with its angst and hyperbole. With so many brands working so hard to make the world a better place, you would think we’d have solved all the world’s problems by now.
Certainly, there are companies and brands that play a significant role in our lives and the culture at large. By all means, articulate their purpose and attach them to a noble, human endeavor.
But for many other brands, their role is much more narrow. Utility brands. Efficacy brands. Or brands that we intersect with only occasionally. Oftentimes trying to attach them to a super-sized purpose that is dripping with social import seems ridiculous. What if I just want to get the red out? Or, I like the taste of kettle cooked chips? Is there room to just let those things be what they are? Can we not be compelling and creative any more with a focused simplicity?
There’s nothing wrong with assigning a purpose to a brand. Even a hammer has a purpose. The crime is in the lemming-like thinking that every purpose needs to make the world a better place. A hammer has a job to do. Let’s be true to that, and not force it to be something it isn’t. When the size of the purpose doesn’t match the role of the brand, we are guilty of a kind of strategic malpractice, and the work runs the risk of becoming the stuff of parody. We saw plenty of that during the pandemic.
All brands are not created equal. Let’s allow purpose frameworks to breathe and flex in terms of their output. Purpose and its corresponding love child of “creating a movement” don’t have to be put through the filter of societal change. The tail doesn’t need to wag the dog. It all depends on the relationship people want to have with the brand and the role it plays in our lives.