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Does every brand really need a larger purpose? | GroCurv blog

  • Brands seem to have taken this whole 'purpose' thing too far. Every brand wants to stand for something noble. I don't mean on the CSR front. I mean specifically on the advertising side of things. What do you think has lead to this wave? Is it a good trend? Or is there some such thing as too much purpose?
  • What are the top 3 dos and dont's of this kind of advertising? If they must go down this path, what should brands and agencies keep in mind?
  • Lastly, whatever the hell happened to good ol' hard sell?

I believe what is important is authenticity. And consistency. A word like ‘Purpose’ is very powerful- the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

So the brand manager/ custodian has to ask herself a very important question. Is the message I am sharing reflecting this profound definition of purpose. Was my brand created only for this purpose that the communication is signifying?

A few examples:

  1. Gillette: The best a man can get. Very clear and precise purpose to give men the best shaving experience. Consistently maintained over time with technology driving the product features. Not claiming any social upliftment, but that’s ok. Its still a good enough brand purpose to focus the company.
  2. Apple: cool design/ easy to use products and services is a great brand purpose.
  3. BMW: Ultimate driving machine. Again, a desirable brand purpose.

These are clear brand purposes built into the company tag lines that work well , and keep the entire company, its employees focused on what they are delivering. And the consumer is clear about the promise. Purchase after purchase after purchase.

Now, where this all gets more complicated is when the ‘ brand purpose’ starts to move into the realm of social transformation and when a brand wants to claim a purpose that has social impact and relevance.

A great example: Dove. Their purpose is not to sell soap; their purpose is to help women feel better about their bodies. So that’s a big difference there. And that’s been a consistency so critical to their communication. Its been with them for years. It’s the only association people now have with Dove.

The Body Shop: it stands for the finest ethically-sourced ingredients to create a range of naturally-inspired beauty products. They state explicitly that they work fairly with farmers and suppliers, are 100% vegetarian and always and forever being firmly against animal testing.

Powerful purpose. Maintained consistently year after year after year.

An example closer to home- Tata tea:

Jago Re. Its purpose is so strongly entwined into social awareness, that its website tataglobalbeverages immediately invites visitors to visit its site www.jaagore.com.

Tata Tea does not itself actively influence social change, but it provokes thought. So in that context it has an ‘arm chair’ purpose , but nonetheless it has remained true to its call to raise awareness of disturbing social trends in India.

So I think companies that understand how their products deeply impact society as well as deliver a quality experience to their consumers have every right to keep a ‘larger’ purpose at the centre of their existence and communication. But it all comes from the product delivering credibly on its basic promise.

Where this fails horribly is when one campaign out of the blue, and totally not aligned with the company’s history and product position, appears in response to a topical issue.

Audi got totally trashed for this advertisement on gender pay inequality. With many consumers, including women pointing out that equal work for equal pay is infact law in the US, so why is Audi even talking about it ? A complete failure in terms of developing a strong brand purpose around this issue.

Or Budweiser’s 2017 advertisement on the immigration story of its founders. As a response to the heightened debates and discussion on immigration in the US in 2017. Its so inconsistent with Bud’s overall position and years of advertising. And this campaign and message of immigration disappeared very quickly.

So authenticity / and consistency are central to the brand as it decides to state and communicate its purpose. I see no reason why they should not go this route.


‘Good ol' hardsell’ still exists. Maruti’s ‘milage kitna deti hai’ is an example. States very clearly what the brand has been selling to consumers for years.

BMW’s ultimate driving machine and Gillette, as I mentioned before are brand properties designed to sell more product. Their consistency has been ensuring the product and the promise are closely aligned. Such advertising exists and works very well.

In terms of “do’s and don’t’s”, I would strongly advocate that a brand look at whether the product has the relevance to the purpose it is claiming. Ensure it has a strategy in place that is looking for enough into the future. To develop a social purpose strategy, managers should begin by identifying a set of social or environmental needs to which the brand can make a meaningful contribution.

Then, is it consistent enough?

Eg: Lifebouy/ Rin are some brands that run commercial hard sell advertisements, but from time to time run some campaigns on social welfare/ child health for example/ or rural empowerment. Its not consistent enough for a consumer to associate these brands to the purpose they want to own and represent. So why do it?

And very important, don’t change the purpose. Unless there is a tectonic shift in the environment a company is operating in. The Budweiser advertisement popped up and promptly disappeared from public consciousness. It was so far away from Bud’s positioning that a single advertisement was absolutely not enough to make an impact.

Think of Amul, which had a clear purpose-led mission, committed to the betterment of dairy farmers and cooperatives. But then it has the Amul girl talking of topical issues. And its advertisements now are all about product benefits. So is Amul anymore the torch bearer of social progress any more? Was it wise of them to lose it? Did they think modern India would care less for social progress?

In summary, I seek a larger purpose to my life and hope to make an impact to society that is meaningful. I am setting some personal goals in this direction and taking small steps. I am therefore attracted to brands that can tie in their product performance to larger issues before society as a whole. It resonates with me. And I believe that there are more consumers now than before who wish to participate in positive social change. They and I seek such brands. And we all feel assured when brands maintain their purpose over a period of time.

However I am equally pained by brands that wish to exploit my emotions by treating deep fundamental issues through a topical and tactical lens.

Knowing the difference in these two states is critical for a purpose led marketing strategy to succeed.


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