Opinion

Mark Ritson, maybe you’re wrong, wrong, wrong?

International Creative Services managing director Anne Miles disagrees with Mark Ritson on one key issue: purpose. Oh, and that Gillette ad.

Mark Ritson really is my marketing hero: super intelligent, a downright good guy and fellow speak-my-mind kinda guy. I don’t think there is one thing he’s ever said that wasn’t a well-formed argument with both top end industry experience and academia behind it. I don’t pretend to be a marketing guru anywhere near his credentials here, but there is just one thing that we don’t agree on: brand purpose. I believe brand purpose is here to stay, will be forming legislation and policy very soon, and is what the new consumer wants.

As a conscious capitalist I’m all about business doing the right thing, and think brands and marketers have a big place (even a responsibility) in making our world a better place. We’ve done some damage as an industry over time and we need to at least rectify our own wrongs, and be responsible about what we produce from here. I don’t see it as trite, like Mark does, but do agree some brands are inauthentic in the way they do it. Regardless, I’m thinking that if brands are ‘doing purpose’ just for commercial gain, and they are still making impact in the world, then frankly I don’t really care so much about their motivations so long as some good is getting done.

We may need to get into the ‘chicken or the egg?’ argument here. Many think that marketing simply reflects society and it is not our responsibility to think ahead, make change or influence society. I’m not from that school of thought, and strongly believe our marketing really is impacting society, and often in a bad way perpetuating unconscious bias and spreading some terrible values and ways of treating each other.

Marketing can do good, and we should be taking responsibility for fixing broken things in society because we have the power to be so influential and need to be very mindful of that privilege, a privilege many of us have exploited in the past (and still are).

According to many studies, people want purpose delivered by companies (therefore brands). Research by Sheldon Group in the US is one current example, and shows that 86% of consumers believe companies should take a stand for social issues. 64% said they would very likely support that stand with their purchases. There is plenty of other data out there that says that workers are retained through a company operating with purpose too, so this is both internal and external value.

We probably need to be sure we all align on what a purpose driven business is, and in my books that is anything that is underlying the reason why we sell the products and services we do that has a positive impact on the world. It can also be that we do good with the profits that we earn from capitalist activities and give back in some way. Either way, that’s purpose.

It is also clear in the Sheldon Group study that 64% of respondents said companies should provide ongoing support for issues that align with the types of products or services they offer. By contrast, 13% believe companies should support an issue currently in the news. So, this alignment and relevance is important.

In the past our politics and legislation has been formed by purpose driven businesses, only we haven’t really thought of them like that. The purpose has really only been to bring negative things into our world such as gun use, cigarettes, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, casinos and alcohol. These companies have been operating on lobbying tactics to bring the concepts of freedom, rights, and escape that they know a large group of people want, but delivering through negative products. They sell the purpose before they sell the product, and that’s one of the biggest parts of their success.

Purpose doesn’t always have to be just social cause related either; it may well just be about making someone’s life easier, to make us healthier, or being driven to put more money back into the family wallet. I personally believe that if a brand doesn’t have a purpose, then it is strategically misaligned and purely about making cash in a competitive mindset; and that has a short and shallow life in society right now and as we move into the future.

Mark, himself, has also said that a product can sell just because it is better. But the real question is ‘Why is it beneficial to be better?’ and ultimately it will link back to some kind of purposeful mission. Even the most traditionally capitalist brand cannot say that they produce better products just for themselves – there will always be a problem they are solving and something of value to a customer.

I think purpose is better defined by what it is not – it is not about doing our jobs better or producing a better product for the sake of the technology. If we think this way then I’m not sure any brand would want to be just that because there is no reason for purchase, no value proposition.

What possible purpose is behind this latest Holden campaign that is reflecting the women in society as trophies hanging off the arms of the boy squad? What kind of future man is Holden perpetuating with an arrogant, egotistical teenager in the back seat here, pushing the girls to the dicky seat in the back? This ad seems completely purposeless, and as a result a strategic misfire of massive proportions. The product team may be getting their purpose right (which may be to solve a space issue for families who want to travel together in the one car and not in two), but the marketing team and agency are pitifully off track and likely stopping this good match between product purpose and market needs or wants.

We do agree that the creative execution has to be done right. The latest Gillette ad Mark Ritson hates so badly features a typical USA style delivery that’s very schmaltzy for us Aussies (but super popular for Americans!). A lot of us tolerate this type of work because so much US material plays here, all the same.

This ad really could have started midway through where it clearly is showing some great role modelling, and very positive ways for men to behave (Mark thought it didn’t have anything positive in it, but I reckon look again).

There are statistics that back up this ad, and men in society are generally proven to be perpetuators of violence, and these issues depicted in this Gillette ad are very real to us at the receiving end. Sorry, not gender bashing here, but the numbers stack up. We know it is not ALL men, but there are enough numbers to give validity to this. Women clearly do perpetuate these stereotypes too, without question, and some of us are so beaten down by men in our lives we have given up or many have no clue what they’re perpetuating because it seems to feel like normal.

Mark clearly discusses on Twitter that only 50% of men buy their own razors, and suggests the rest choose their brand at an early age and stick to it even if purchased by someone else. As a female that buys razors, even for myself, I’ll happily be buying Gillette even when I didn’t before, and giving them to my two sons who are new to shaving – without question here.

We also know that people do more to move away from a problem than they do to reach for success, so there is some valid psychology in this ad format, despite pissing some people off. It may well be the pissing-people-off bit that makes for the biggest change; and only time and sales results will tell on this one. The Donald Trump method of publicity seems to be that ‘any publicity is good publicity’ and this may work here for Gillette too despite the cringe-worthiness for some.

I sat on a plane today next to a young father of a gorgeous three-year-old boy. After commenting on the young boy’s great manners the father, unprompted, asked if I’d seen the Gillette ad? He loved it and stood by all that it was fighting for and was passionate about ensuring his boy learned how to be a man who behaved with respect. The three-year-old boy reached to touch the sequins on my skirt and the father pulled him up and said that he ‘must ask before he touches anyone and that he must wait to see if they say yes.’ This generation of father does live and breathe the sentiments Gillette is taking a stand against in my experience and some data on this would be awesome to explore. This same guy on the plane also said: “anyone that thinks this ad is negative or blaming needs to look at themselves and question their privilege.”

Mark Ritson and I may not agree on purpose or the details of the Gillette spot, but those of us that do believe in purpose-driven marketing are a formidable force and we’re here to push for brands to even have impact at a legislative level. We believe it will be successful because we have the customer behind us – so watch this space.

Anne Miles is managing director of International Creative Services, a new model creative services company. Anne is an advocate for diversity for our industry and the creative we produce and is a volunteer for Conscious Capitalism Australia and New Zealand.

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