25 May

What’s the purpose of purpose?

By Harriet Lowe, Insight Manager


Last week, Mark Ritson slated Heineken’s ‘Open Your World’ ad in Marketing Week, criticising the alcohol brand, along with a “posse” of others, who according to Ritson, have stopped viewing marketing as a way to grow awareness and drive sales by becoming too engrossed in purpose-driven marketing and social responsibilities.


Purpose-driven marketing is in-vogue, as a myriad of brands have their say on environmental, social and political issues. Some doing this well, such as The This Girl Can campaign that champions women’s engagement with sports in light of social stigmas, and others not so well, need I remind you of a certain tone-deaf ‘protest’ ad that launched last month with a certain Kardashian sister as its leading lady?


Whilst I agree with Ritson that marketers shouldn’t lose sight of their primary purpose, to ultimately use budget to create sales, no matter how ‘uncool’ this may seem, I can’t help but think that issue lies with the implementation and clarity around what purpose-driven marketing means, rather than the concept itself.


The use of ‘purpose’ in purpose-driven marketing is a multi-dimensional beast, and goes broader than just discussing social-good, and can encompass more rational and performance-related aspects of brands. Boots’ managing director, Elizabeth Fagan, for instance, believes that a brand’s purpose doesn’t always have to be “worthy”, but can be fun and still make a difference. Ryanair CMO Kenny Jacobs also discusses how Ryanair’s purpose comes from a place of rationalism, over emotion.


The meaning of ‘purpose’ is then synonymous with clarity and demonstrating what the brand in question stands for. This doesn’t have to mean finding a viewpoint on current social, political and environmental issues. Moreover, engagement around differing forms of purpose-driven marketing are subject to change based on three different areas: target audience, platform and conveyed messaging.


As with any successful campaign, it starts with being in touch with the needs, beliefs and interests of your audience. A report by Inkling – ‘You Don’t Even Know Me’ –  demonstrates just how largely consumer expectations can vary, even within a singular age bracket.


The report found that the older end of the Millennial category is more likely to respond to more ‘rational’ hooks, focused around performance, reliability and value for money, whereas the younger end of UK Millennials drift towards activities related to culture, personality and the brands who make a real contribution to culture.


More broadly speaking, 7 in 10 Millennials say they take into account a brand’s ethics and values when considering a purchase, compared to only 15% of UK Gen Xers aged 35-55.


It is understanding these differing influences and expectations to determine what ‘purpose’ and ‘authenticity’ should mean in their relative audience segments. Based on Inkling’s report, the in-vogue understanding of purpose-driven marketing, centred around social good, would perform well with the younger age brackets, whereas more rational content would sit better with older consumers.


Having then understood target audience and its appropriate messaging, it then comes down to the right platforms in which to distribute that information, based on the nature of their communicative functions.


In an increasingly saturated market, the line between brand purpose and purpose-driven marketing should be one and the same and enable a number of different actions. Whilst the debate of social, political and environmental issues is important, and if delivered well, can be incredibly powerful, but purpose-driven marketing should not be restricted to this area and instead encompass what it is a brand stands for. For Heineken, this is to inspire unity over division, and for Ryanair it is to provide accessible, common-sense and value-for-money services. Both vastly different.


By viewing purpose-driven marketing in this vein, I believe it can most certainly be viewed as a pivotal way to grow awareness and drive sales.



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We understand that keeping up to date with the latest news, views and trends can be only but a dream to the time poor among us.

We sort the wheat for the chaff to bring insights that really matter to you and your agency.


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