July 20, 2022

The Subtle Art of Giving a F*ck: Getting Purpose-Driven Marketing Right

by Tom Molyneux

We are now firmly within a purpose-driven age. Set in motion before the pandemic and concretised after, consumers around the world were brought to a stop to really consider what they want from life as a whole, and how brands fit into that new vision. The goalposts shifted and all of a sudden the world became a simpler place, and with that came a renewed focus on caring for the planet, your community and yourself.

Data from Zeno Strength has backed up these findings which show people are 4 times more likely to purchase from a brand with a strong purpose, 6 times more likely to defend that brand in a challenging moment and 4.5 times more likely to recommend that brand to a friend or family member.

A Call for Purpose-Driven Marketing

In particular, Gen-Z are driving this call for change, a group that is 2 times more likely than millennials to cite brands as having the power to make the world a better place. This is a generation that values purpose higher than any other, with 76% stating that the brands they buy stand for a greater mission/purpose. Brands cannot shy away from the fact that the next generation of consumers are demanding more from them and putting more and more pressure on them to make a difference.

Brands that emphasise purpose driven marketing as more than just a tick box exercise, are beginning to understand it as a highly profitable strategy for building resonance with their audiences and gaining their affinity. However, a common pitfall that is still regularly occurring comes from brands that attempt to do something with purpose but it comes across as inauthentic, hollow or tone deaf.

Many brands still feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, say nothing and run the risk of being called out or ignored, say something and run the risk of being exposed or receiving a negative reaction. Finding the right balance is an art that brands need to learn if they want to grow within culture, stay relevant and innovative.

Kendall Jenner's Pepsi Can

The archetypal example of how not to do purpose driven marketing was Pepsi’s ad with Kendall Jenner back in 2017. In the ad, Kendall Jenner leaves a photoshoot to join protestors calling for love and peace, and then goes on to offer a can of Pepsi to police as a peace offering.

The ad was instantly and heavily criticised around the world for being tone deaf, utilising a moment of heightened protests, associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, to sell their products. But, it's not as simple as saying nothing or avoiding purpose led topics all together. Fashion Nova and Pretty Little Thing were both under fire for not speaking out or supporting the Black Lives Matter movement despite a high proportion of their consumers being Black women.

As the world evolves pressure is mounting for brands to act with true meaning and impact, aligning their values with a worthy cause. The younger generations not only want to see more from companies, they expect it. According to the IPSOS 40% of Gen-Z consumers boycott brands with which they have ethical concerns, compared to 16% of Millennials.

It is increasingly essential that brands learn how to create a meaningful cultural program that achieves its desired impact in a manner that is appreciated by customers. Within culture there are many nuances easy to miss, but failing to understand them can lead to a completely misfired campaign. It is imperative that brands work with the right people, build a message that authentically aligns with their values and invest in the community/scene that you are trying to access. Below we have outlined some important things to consider when thinking about a purpose driven campaign:

Give Creators Control

Around the world there are key people leading their own scenes and inspiring those around them. These cultural creators are at the forefront of movements galvanising communities and leading with positive impact.

Cultural leaders are the perfect partners for brands that want to invest in a specific community, scene or purpose driven movement. They have the ability to authentically bring you into the conversation and help to build your brand position itself within culture. Again, it's not as simple as identifying the right cultural leader, brands need to work with them in a way that ensures the partnership is authentic and avoids being negatively perceived.

The best way to do this is to give the cultural partner control over the campaign and allow them to align the activation around their values and what they are passionate about. Levi’s Music Project is a stellar example, with the brand giving creators like Skepta full creative control to build a community project that they think will truly support their local community.

Skepta’s partnership saw Levi’s create a 12 week music program within Tottenham that could give young budding artists in the area an opportunity to learn from the best and be inspired. Because this campaign was so close to home for Skepta, he invested a lot more in the campaign than is usually expected in brand partnerships and it evolved to be something beyond a commercial transaction.

Invest In The Scene

One of the biggest backlashes from the #BlackLivesMatter movement was the influx of brands that jumped on the back of the #BlackOutTuesday trend. Brands were heavily criticised for posting about the movement without really doing anything substantial to actually support or invest in making a change for the better. Hypocrisy is not lost on audiences and if a brand makes a statement or supports a cause they need to ensure that they are doing something to positively impact that scene in order for it to feel justified.

A perfect example of this is Burberry’s recent partnership with Marcus Rashford, launched in November last year. The campaign was focused on helping disadvantaged children with their literacy skills. Burberry donated to a selection of youth focused charities and pledged to connect their community to create a better tomorrow. As a leading advocate for British children in regards to free school meals Marcus Rashford was a great choice, with the campaign naturally aligning with his values and ethics. A connection made stronger by Burberry’s donation to Woodhouse Park in Manchester, one of the chosen charities whose youth centre played a pivotal role in Rashford's childhood.

Respect Grassroots

A great way to gain respect and recognition surrounding a purpose driven campaign is to work with grassroot talent, those recognised as the driving force behind the community that the company wants to align with.

Empowering local talent and giving them a platform to grow can help a brand in a number of ways; it shows that the brand is not just trying to gain quick recognition by working with a celeb level partner, it shows the brand has knowledge of who the local leaders are and it shows that they are genuinely trying to help creators level up by giving them a platform.

Red Bull is a brand that paved the way for positively supporting and investing in a scene through their music strategy centred around creating the next leaders in the industry. Their RBMA music program was a global platform across 60 countries that helped grassroots artists grow, collaborate and create music. The academy was an opportunity for artists to meet and interact and make new music together. The amazing thing about Red Bull’s program is how it genuinely broke a number of artists onto the global scene and significantly impacted the music industry in a positive way. By really and truly supporting local talent at a global scale Red Bull have grown to be one of the most authentic figures within the music scene.

Be Transparent

Transparency can be a very powerful tool in the modern world to build trust with your audience and really showcase authenticity through your campaign. In a world where greenwashing and purpose washing is rife, audiences will become more and more sceptical when they see a piece of advertisement claiming it is doing something positive in the world.

By offering up the information consumers are searching for, brands are able to take control of the narrative. Creating a transparent message, being open and honest about their limitations as a brand and any improvements or processes that they have gone through the company can gain trust from their audiences and make the message hit home.

The apparel Patagonia is a leader and an innovator in brand transparency. It has implemented the Footprint Chronicles project to tell customers how it sources raw materials, where the cotton is grown, and how products are stocked at its warehouse.

“They can see slideshows, videos, and interviews of the people behind the product. But more importantly, these slides, videos, and interviews discuss what is good about the product and what sucks. It’s the good and the bad. It’s total transparency,” Rick Ridgeway, VP for Environmental initiatives at Patagonia, explains.

Building transparency across your business is not a one-off activity and Patagonia are a perfect example of implementing that trust with the consumer over time. They have practised it regularly and have built a loyal fanbase that know the brands culture is in the right place.