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Evolution of brand purpose

Magda Wolder

Creative Strategy Director



Evolution of brand purpose

Shifting from catchy one-liners to concrete action

The world is waking up to the need for those in power to use it more wisely; to commit to bigger aspirations than their own bank balances. The truth is, having clear brand purpose these days gives more than just social currency – it can be the making of a brand.

Brand purpose has been around for years but has evolved – it’s had to. A couple of decades ago, it used to be enough to have a big vision and media dollars to put behind an epic brand video, such as Apple’s “Think Different” advertisement from 1997. Brands that aspired to win the hearts of the public spent months indulging in lengthy conversations, polishing their brand purpose and mission statements and paying agencies hefty sums to craft that killer one-liner.

The role and importance of brand purpose is continuously called into question, but its relevance to younger generations means it’s unlikely to be knocked off marketing agendas anytime soon. Around 61 percent of Gen Z and millennial consumers like brands that stand for something and take a point of view on social issues. Gen Z audiences in particular have been raised in a more unpredictable world than their predecessors, in which trust is hard-earned and easily broken. Whilst they care about vision, they crave concreteness even more.

So, what are the everyday ways marketers can incorporate brand purpose and what are the potential pitfalls of purpose?

Gen Z want vision, so long as it’s not lazy

While visions are easily set, it can be difficult to keep up with acceptable brand purpose parameters and even harder to integrate them into a brand’s makeup. A notable example of brand authenticity being called into question is with recent Pride brand associations. Rainbow flags appeared in brand logos across the UK and around the world as a show of support for the LBGTQ+ community. But, delving deeper, we hear that for many brands, it was just that – a show – with no year-round programme to back up their promises, follow-through on product profit donations, hiring of LGBTQ+ people or, in advertising, development of truly representative creative executions.

Brand purpose doesn’t need to be a dramatic statement. A company that applies brand purpose well is beauty retailer Glossier, which exists to empower individuality through personal choice and lives this out by encouraging individuals (not masses) to curate their own, personal style. Glossier focuses on engaging and growing a “superfan” base through Instagram, talking to their audiences first, then influencers - asking questions and listening to the answers.

Another brand staying true to its beliefs is outdoor clothing company Patagonia which, since 1985, has donated 1 percent of sales to the preservation of natural environments. They stay clear of vanity advertising, always working on the product side first and building a strong community with a sense of purpose through social channels and physical activations. When they advertise, they highlight images of the outdoors to infer brand principles of simple living and environmental consideration; every opportunity is a chance to fight for the environment. These are the brands that live out what they stand for.

Purpose-driven audiences need brands to create purposeful products, meaningful content and advertising that celebrates their view of the world – in that order.

What does this mean for today’s brand builders?

When it comes to marketing to millennials and Gen Z, everyone knows that digital must be included in a plan if you want to get in front of this audience; it is the most intimate place for brands to nurture their relationships with their audience, one on one. But all too often – even today – digital creative is being treated as a secondary opportunity to repeat what is shown on TV.

Google is an example of a brand that carries its brand purpose to digital creative effortlessly. Google’s purpose is grounded in the idea of being accessible and helpful, in everything it does, from the AI in its apps fuelling how their products are developed, to their digital advertising. The brand experiments and innovates in digital creative, endlessly testing dynamic media formats to create helpful digital ads that bring to life Google products’ usefulness in everyday situations. For instance, Google Maps can use location data to show an ad with live traffic in a user’s area, and Google Search can feature tonight’s cinema showtimes for The Lion King nearby. These are not just contextualised ads, they are mini brand experiences demonstrating helpfulness.

Every day is an opportunity to hold ourselves accountable by asking the question: what is your brand genuinely committed to? Every ad, piece of content, experience or product is an opportunity to realise brand purpose. It is the cumulative effect of concrete, committed and focused activations across all channels that build trust with purpose-driven younger generations. A lofty one-liner on its own is simply not enough.