Brand purpose is tricky to get right. Lush’s recent haranguing of police in their “spy cops” campaign was met with criticism across the board. However, when issues are ignored by major brands they are often called out for not taking a stance. How exactly can you get brand purpose right? Can it ever be useful?
H&M’s “Erdem’s The Secret Life of Flowers” does introduce bisexuality into its advertising campaign, but the problem is these issues are only vaguely connected to the brand. Ritson’s damning criticism of Heineken’s “Open Your World” ad can be aptly applied to this H&M advert. There is little about the campaign that really resonates as being about H&M. The brand is lost to the issue; this means there is a failure to establish an authentic connection between the brand and the issue. So, while there are no major problems with the advert it fails to be of any use to H&M. The ad doesn’t really serve its primary purpose, which is to sell more clothes. What’s more the lack of genuine connection between the brand and the issues it tackles can lead to a feeling that a brand is simply exploiting the issue without any authentic concern or care. If consumers think this is the case a brand’s image can be badly damaged.
However, when done correctly this kind of display of brand purpose can really add to the value of a brand. For example, McCain’s did well to not overstate their inclusion of gay couples in their “We Are Family” campaign earlier this year. The campaign works primarily because it is authentic. There is no forced connection between McCain’s and gay rights, but just a genuine representation of what family looks like in Britain. It represents McCain’s way of thinking, while at the same time not appearing to be a crass marketing strategy.
If a company is to make a commitment to a specific brand purpose, it needs to be fully committed to that cause. Coca-Cola’s recent promises to collect and recycle the equivalent of all its packaging by 2030 are too tepid to really excite consumers. For a company that is said to use more than 110 billion single use plastic bottles every year the lack of any ambition to reduce the actual amount of plastic use is inexcusable. Coca-Cola have failed to show the consumer that they really care. They have made plastic waste an instrument in their PR campaign rather than treating the issue as end itself.
In contrast to Coca-Cola, Iceland have recently pledged to end single-use plastic in its products by 2023, illustrating the commitment that is necessary for an effective purpose-driven campaign. It has been welcomed by Greenpeace primarily because it is a bold strategy that is a real attempt to tackle the issue. This has got people interested in Iceland, and has the potential to attract new customers.
MasterCard failed with their recent World Cup marketing campaign in which they promised to donate 10,000 meals every time Messi or Neymar scored. The campaign trivialised the plight of starving children by turning it into a game. Social media users rebranded their campaign “The Hunger Games”. Interestingly there was no similar reaction in 2015 when Andy Murray pledged to donate £50 to Unicef for every ace he hit for the rest of the season. Likewise, PaddyPower’s promise to pay £10,000 to the LGBT+ community for every Russian goal was well received. The differentiating factor here seems to be Mastercard’s use of starvation to attach itself to two of the world’s biggest stars to gain publicity. When companies bring in major issues into their campaigns they need to be aware of that any instrumentalisation of those issues will be met with disdain.
Brand purposes can’t be made up by marketers. Clearly marketers can use brand purpose in their work, but inventing one purely for PR will not resonate with consumers. If a brand purpose is to be useful the whole company needs to be invested in the message, otherwise any campaigns linked to that message will appear inauthentic.