As part of Ad Age’s weekly Marketer’s Brief podcast, on a monthly basis, we will explore the best and worst purpose marketing ads with Thomas Kolster, founder and creative director at Copenhagen-based Goodvertising Agency, which advises companies and organizations on how to turn environmental, societal and health risks into market opportunities. Below, Kolster's opinions on some recent campaigns.
Purpose marketing hits and misses
Volvo’s “For Life” global campaign from AKQA and Grey promotes the safety features of its vehicles by suggesting that people need to feel safe in order to endure challenges and reach high levels of human achievement. But in the context of the ad, that safety comes via support from family and friends. It features Swedish pop singer Seinabo Sey, skateboarder Sky Brown and Paralympian Liu Cuiqing— as well as a non-binary teenager who deals with nerves before a school dance.
The message—“when you feel safe you can be truly free”—supports an ambitious pledge that Volvo set in 2007 that states “no one should be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo car.” The automaker on its website concedes it has “yet to realize the goal, but we now know why. Focusing on innovations that understand what’s outside the car isn’t enough. We also need to better understand you, the driver inside.”
“I absolutely love the pivot,” Kolster said, referring to connecting car safety to bigger life moments. It successfully moves beyond normal auto safety ad clichés of parents protecting their children in cars to a bigger idea that “when you are safe, you can explore life,” he added, suggesting it “makes it a much more empowering and enabling platform.”
Volvo ran the campaign during the Oscars with an ad that spotlighted how behind-the-scenes Hollywood professionals keep movie-making safe.
Kolster is also a fan of a campaign from French train service Ouigo that talks about “going green without even trying” by spotlighting frivolous daily activities and connecting them to taking a train for only 16 Euros. One ad shows a couple taking a romantic shower together while another ad shows a mom unplugging her daughter's gaming console—as she throws a fit. French agency Rosa Paris is behind the ad.
The approach is “clever,” Kolster said—and shows how people can be environmental through simple acts.
Kolster gave mixed reviews to another transport ad—this one from the Swedish Västtrafik, whose spot promotes electric bus travel by visually depicting how it saves carbon emissions. The ad shows one of its buses next to fossil fuel-powered cars stacked on top of each other and another group of electric cars. Both sets of vehicles rise higher into the sky than the single bus—bar-chart style. The agency is Forsman & Bodenfors.The storytelling is “compelling,” but the ad is “not really telling me anything new,” Kolster said. “Because we know that taking the bus is better than driving your own electric car, or driving a fossil fuel car, so in that sense, I feel like they are wasting those 30 seconds.”
Gin brand Botanist sends the message that it “sustainably forages botanicals” in an ad that Kolster says is “a really good example of what not to do.”
“They just put all those words in there…without actually trying to ask themselves why does that matter,” he said.
He also does not like an ad from footwear brand Ekn that promotes “the world’s first shoe ever designed in Bangladesh and made in Europe.”
It begins by dispelling the premise that the world consists of “the smart ones and the others,” and ends by highlighting the designer of the shoe, who is from Bangladesh. The brand describes the effort like this: “We’ve moved beyond our comfort zone and found talent and subcultures exactly where they’re seldomly looked for. Their creativity and passion convinced and inspired us from the first moment on.”
The product and how it is made is “absolutely inspiring,” Kolster said. But the “ad isn’t really doing it any favors.”
“There are so many good stories you could tell” about the product and designer, “but it all gets lost in that beat and that track— and as captivating as it is, it is pulling us away from the bigger story.”
Another miss comes from Kraft, which plugs its peanut butter in Canada with an ad that promotes “Welcome Home” jars that are meant to appeal to immigrants. The jars feature language from their home countries while plugging a partnership with language learning brand Duolingo.
“These people seem more like actors than real people commenting on the peanut butter,” Kolster said. “It sort of just falls flat,” noting that while it is an honorable cause, the ad tries too hard.