Redefining ‘purpose’: Are we in a new era of purpose-driven marketing?

Vaccine campaigns have been coming left, right and centre at consumers over past months as brands have found a voice to support this solution to ending the COVID-19 pandemic via vaccination. Will we see this trend grow in future, will the likes of Telstra's and TAB's taking a stand on other issues? Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan investigates.

COVID-19 and our seemingly never-ending relationship with lockdowns here in Australia (I write this on the day Melbourne becomes the world’s most locked-down city), have presented a new dynamic between brands and purpose driven marketing.

More brands are now breaking into purpose driven marketing, yet with society’s greater interests at heart, taking responsibility to have a voice and drive home a message.

Marketing and communications teams have an increasingly ubiquitous presence across all platforms of our lives, in hand with relying on big ‘brand’ marketing, there is an increased feeling of responsibility to promote outside of their own products, and into what the brand, or those at the brand, believe is good for everyone else.

While we have seen purpose campaigns previously, they have historically been limited to  something linked to the brand.

Within the context of this pandemic, brands such as Qantas, Virgin Australia and the Melbourne Airport, that have produced vaccine campaigns clearly have a direct investment in our nation getting jabbed. As long as we stay locked down, they make no money.

On the other hand, brands like Woolworths, you could argue are receiving greater business as everyone eats at home, and the TAB (JAB) rolls on as sport does, with punters quite easily able to bet from home.

Other brands however, have opted to stay silent.

We have also seen the creative work behind each of these campaigns take a different approach in order to get essentially the same message across, creating somewhat of a “creative war“, as referred to by ad industry veteran and radio host, Russel Howcroft.

Qantas’ ‘Be Rewarded’ aimed to appeal to Aussie’s emotional side; then more humorously driven campaigns such as Virgin Australia looking to those missing ‘the feeling of flying‘ as well as Telstra’s myth debunking skit featuring Mark Humphries; the big ticket competitions, such as this past weekend’s Million Dollar Vax; and various others such as Australia’s favourite ad couple, Rhonda and Ketut returning with a baby.

Again, in the case of Telstra and its 5G chief investigator, and others taking the comedic route, there have been critiques calling this approach ineffective, as it only seems to demean those hesitant or on the fence.

After all, the aim is to encourage those who haven’t had, or booked in their vaccine shot, not those who need no encouragement. They do not need a brand’s convincing.

In a recent Campaign Review, two creatives were asked to give their judgement on a number of recent vaccination campaigns, including Telstra’s. Five by Five’s Matt Lawton said this:

“But I get the impression here that clean cut Mark is just appealing to anyone already vaccinated who can recycle some of these gags on zoom calls to like-minded friends. If we assume the anti-vaxers won’t be persuaded by being belittled and aren’t the intended audience anyway, then we’re left with the apathetic.”

So if not delivering on the aim, or offering a real reason to get jabbed, is its only purpose to show that Telstra supports vaccines? Maybe.

And if it is, is there anything so wrong with that?

If your swing vote in deciding to get the vaccine is Telstra’s comedic enlistment, I would suggest you are taking medical advice from the wrong source anyway. However, if Telstra as a brand is pro-vaccine, and wants to get that message across, while also delivering a few laughs, then it is within its rights to do so.

Mumbrella recently asked readers if brands should be getting involved in the vaccine push, and the results showed that the jury is still out. Of 205 that answered, 58.05% of respondents said brands should be getting involved, while 22.44% said no, and 19.51% said it was more complicated than a single yes or no answer.

Further, brand new research from Forethought has found that over one in three Australians (36%) would spend more of their money at a business that mandates vaccination of their workforce. This number jumps to 44% when only taking New South Wales into account.

Howcroft again told Mumbrella that it is in every advertisers interest to get everyone vaccinated.

“As far as I’m concerned, every single advertiser needs to create a vaccine campaign. So if every ad that I see between now and November is a vaccine ad, good.”

Also speaking to Mumbrella this month, Deliveroo’s head of consumer communications, Joe Satari said that while it is his opinion that brands shouldn’t insert themselves where not relevant, “there are few brands I can think of that don’t have a dog in this fight”.

Deliveroo’s Joe Satari

His company last month partnered with Hungry Jacks to offer customers free fries when whatever state you are in reaches 60% double dose. Again, you could argue Deliveroo have been getting some pretty good business out of these lockdowns.

On the other hand, an anonymous brand executive told me it is not a brands place to get involved with the vaccine push, despite themselves being pro-vaccines and also double-vaccinated.

So it is certainly a bit of a contentious topic, one that has its intricacies, but one where there is also a clear majority.

To Satari’s point that brands should not insert themselves where its not relevant, this becomes a little more tricky in deciding where it is, and is not relevant.

In 2017, as Australia putting same-sex marriage to a referendum, a range of brands, including Qantas, Apple Australia, Deliveroo, Puma, Coca-Cola,  ANZ, CommBank, Telstra, Holden, Airbnb and more came out in support of marriage equality.

The campaigns were widely praised, as this was within a moment of great importance for the country, and particularly for those which the eventually passed law would impact directly.

This wasn’t to everyone’s liking however, as there remained the 38.4% of the population that voted No. Peter Dutton, then immigration minister, said that CEOs, and their businesses should “stick to their knitting”, rather than pushing “politically correct views down our throats”.

With so much brand voice present, brands are allowed the freedom to market themselves however they like, as long as they do it responsibly and respectfully, as was diiscussed in another feature here on Pride Month marketing earlier this year.

The reason many don’t, is that commercially, it can have its consequences. Those listed above, I would hazard a guess that none regret the decision to come out in support of the Yes vote, and would also guess that all are proud to have done so.

The campaigns also likely turned some consumers away from those brands in the process. And for other purpose driven campaigns, they are ultimately judged by the harshest critic of them all, consumer’s wallets.

While there have been many vaccine campaigns, and they continue to roll out, there have also been a notable few brands that have not produced their own take.

“If a brand wants to stand for something, then yes it should empower itself to have a voice. But consumers will judge with their feet,” says Satari.

Vaccines are a pretty safe topic in terms of purpose driven campaigns to the public, as the national first dose uptake number just crept over 80%.

However there will be others that don’t quite reach the same rate of buy-in. And when it is done, there is often a sense of whether or not the brand is genuinely behind this message or not.

“Its a good thing that consumers are on their guard, and not being taken for fools,” says Satari.

Whether or not consumers want to hear these messages from brands, some are going to deliver them, whether consumers like it or not. And over time, we have started to mark out which brands are more willing to have a voice on a range of issues, and which often choose to stay silent.

Speaking on the Mumbrellacast last month, Squarespace’s global chief creative officer, David Lee spoke about judging a range of global advertising awards this and last year, and that one of his main observations was that there was a dramatic trend around purpose-driven work, as audiences were going through some “really struggling times”.

David Lee, Squarespace

“The industry has always done purpose driven work, but some of it, to be completely frank, didn’t feel genuine to be completely fair.”

“In the past couple of years [the work that was entered] didn’t feel artificial. There were brands that were really trying to help, and to raise awareness of things that the world should be hearing about.”

So at a time of such importance for the world, and on a topic where it materially impacts almost everyone, potentially brands are dipping their toes in the waters of purpose driven campaigning here, to test whether or not increased future involvement is on the cards.

It will be very interesting to see in the future if brands increasingly display a conscience and align find a voice on social issues.


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