Long-term effect of brand purpose ‘unclear’, but it’s here to stay

Issue and purpose-based marketing is here to stay, according to new research from Nine, with the media giant claiming “in a world where brands fight for attention and respect, having a point of view can be a way to do that”.

The long-term implications of this phenomenon, however, are unclear, as are the wider effects on consumer behaviour, Publicis Groupe’s global head of futures and insights, Tom Goodwin, said.

“We haven’t quite figured out what the long-term effect of purpose will be,” Goodwin said during a session on echo chambers at Nine’s Big Ideas Store. “Are people going to choose a shoe polish because they’re pro some political belief system? Should every brand aim to be an environmentally-friendly brand? Probably.”

Goodwin joins The Big Ideas Store remotely

Brand purpose, Goodwin said, doesn’t always have to be about taking a divisive or politically-charged stance.

“We have to understand that people like people because they are people, but people like brands because they represent values – and that doesn’t necessarily need to become so closely defined to become a personality or a multi-faceted character. It could just be that their brand value is that they’re ‘friendly’ or they’re ‘great at cleaning’. Or that they’re a ‘wonderful car maker’. So we have to be slightly careful,” he said.

Nine Powered’s director of strategy, insights and effectiveness, Toby Boon, pointed to Nine’s research which indicated brands with a point of view are viewed as modern, having integrity, being more outward looking, and overall easier for consumers to connect with. Brands that lack a point of view, he said, are considered neutral with an old-school way of thinking.

“A brand’s point of view though must be nuanced – not falling into the binary tropes of a cultural debate or conversation – educated, proving that the work has been done, and they’re coming from an informed place; and part of the audience you’re speaking to. Making sure you know where you exist in culture, and where you don’t – and importantly, only playing where you do.

He pointed to Huggies’ campaign about parenting being an individual practice, and Libra’s #BloodNormal initiative as examples of brands getting it right.

“They stayed in their lane. They understood what they can credibly talk about and found an interesting way to do just that,” he said.

“People are moving further and further apart, but we can lower our voices, change our tones, take steps towards one another. Brands can have a point of view, but say it in a way that’s inclusive and respectful.”

Fiftyfive5’s director Hannah Krijnen noted even brands which are perceived as getting it ‘wrong’ are actually, in many cases, getting it right.

She pointed to the divisive Gillette ad, which pivoted away from the traditionally masculine ‘Best a man can get’ trope to a focus on toxic masculinity and expectations of male behaviour.

Many consumers and commentators slammed the ad for alienating its audience and missing the mark, however Krijnen said if you delved deeper into the consumer sentiment, there were lessons for brands.

She said consumers who believed they “fundamentally hated” the ads, changed their minds when they were then shown more traditional campaigns about the functional power of a razor.

Consumers then realised the power of taking a stand: “They go ‘You know what? I respect Gillette, because at least they have a point of view and they care about this topic. I don’t care about how many blades there are,'” she said of the shift.

“Brands that they [consumers] fundamentally said ‘I don’t agree with’, suddenly have more integrity and more genuineness than brands they saw as being functional and non-purpose led.”

Goodwin said that for all the back and forth about its effectiveness and impact, brands should be accessing diversity of thought and have a purpose simply because it’s the best way to do business.

“I think we need to look at intentions, actually,” he said.

How brands should think about echo chambers, according to Nine [Click to enlarge]

“So I think many of these things become rather easy to answer when you just realise that it’s just how to behave. There should be no change of strategy, there should be no real need to adapt quickly. It should just be a company that has a strong moral foundation that knows what it’s about, and then acts in a way which is good for the audience and acts in a way which is good for any retailers, and it’s consistent to that. And I think if you had to suddenly change something, then perhaps you should gave done that work a while ago.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.