Effectively leveraging the power of brand purpose

by Nigel Hollis | August 09, 2017

The debate over the power of purpose flared up again at Cannes, largely fueled by the fact that Fearless Girl won the Titanium Grand Prix and more. Many acknowledged that the Wall Street statue was on message, but questioned whether it was on brand after struggling to remember which company sponsored it.

The statue, created by agency McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors, was designed to highlight the need to put more women in leadership positions so perhaps it does not matter that State Street was not automatically recalled as the sponsor, but for other brands this would definitely be a major problem. As principle four of Make a Lasting Impression states, “No brand means no impression…The challenge for marketers is to make the story fit the brand.”


This can be a huge challenge for brands that want to leverage the power of purpose. As I said at the WARC session at Cannes, faced with fragmenting culture and media brands are grasping for some cultural relevance and many jump on the purpose bandwagon without any clear idea of its relevance to the specific brand. At the same session Paul Bainsfair, director-general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), highlighted this problem by playing the Saturday Night Live Cheetos pitch sketch.

All this said, purpose-led campaigns can deliver a good ROI provided they follow three basic principles:

  1. Identify how the campaign will help the brand make more money.
  2. Address a tension or issue meaningful to the target audience.
  3. Ensure the purpose fits what the brand can/does stand for and offers opportunity to differentiate.

There are plenty of successful campaigns that follow these guidelines. These include Dove’s Masterbrand campaign with a ROI of 4:1, Ariel India’s Share the Load with a ROI of 5:1 and, last but not least, Volvo’s LifePaint with an ROI of 9:1.

Could these brands have achieved the same results without seeking to leverage the power of purpose? Who knows. All we can say in retrospect is that by pursuing a purpose that originates from what the brand could stand for the campaigns achieved a good return on investment. But what do you think? Why do so many brands fall short when trying to leverage the power of purpose? Please share your thoughts.


Leave a comment
  1. Lucien, August 24, 2017
    And marketeers are especially vulnerable as they (their brands) are under pressuare to be seen doing the "right thing" often losing sight or touch with consumer and business needs. The worst is when brands forget - not just why they exist, but what they add to consumers lives in a real way - better value, better experience, better solutions, etc. This uber, "pro-purpose" nature is causing brands to overstep what consumers expect and in the process brands over communicate and become "in-authentic".
  2. Sean Saner, August 10, 2017
    One word, multiple levels of meaning, many brands just don't 'get it' - authenticity.
  3. Ed Cotton, August 09, 2017
    Purpose has to be genuine. It needs to be linked to the brand and it also needs to be proven through real actions. Unilever's work with Lynx on male suicide prevention is a good example. Somehow Unilever shines through in most cases because it's something they have baked into their brand architectures. Not sure- every company and brand has the same level of discipline- so it often looks like bandwagon jumping. 

    Leave a comment