Do Purpose-driven ads really work?

Woman holding plantby Tony Fannin, CEO/Partner, BE Branded  |

Over the last 3-5 years, many marketers, large and small, have focused their advertising and brand in communicating more of a higher purpose than just selling stuff. Messaging has become more messianic. On the surface, this makes sense, especially with the millennials. Many do care that a company is giving back, taking care of the planet and just trying to be good corporate citizens.

The real question, is it paying off on the balance sheet? Though it’s too early to tell, initial indicators is a “qualifying” no. I’ll get to why I say, “qualifying” shortly. P&G helped lead the charge several years with Bob McDonald’s (P&G CEO) public mantra of “Marketing is serving.” Burger King embraced, “empowering consumers to achieve social connectivity.” And Pepsi’s strategy to divert marketing resources to award grants for all kinds of worthwhile purposes.

Results thus far:

P&G – They have lost market share in core businesses that account for more than 50% of their revenue. Bob McDonald is on the hot seat with investors calling for his firing. In response, Mr. McDonald has gone back to focus more on marketing products, though he says the higher purpose is still important.

Burger King – Still floundered and gained no focus until it was sold, brought more under discipline and began to market food at an attractive price point.

Pepsi – They saw their flagship brand drop to #3 behind Coke and Diet Coke. This sent an alarm throughout Pepsi Co. Now they are focusing their marketing might to push their brands.

Purpose-driven marketing does have an effect, but THE key element must be alignment. The purpose must be in harmony with the brand. The most successful companies do this. People know when a brand is “faking” it. A purpose must be a natural association to your brand.

A myth of purpose-driven marketing is it separates you from your competitors. If everyone starts adopting this idea, and it already is reaching a mass adoption point, then there will be “Nobility Parity”. Consumers will be left confused deciding which purpose is more noble than the other, so they will go back to the basics on judging products and services by benefits and costs. This ends up leading back to where we were before. Purpose-driven marketing is a powerful tool for brands, but it must be relevant to the brand and it’s mission, not just tacked on because it’s the thing to do or it sounds good.

As Alfredo Gangotena, the chief marketing officer of MasterCard World Wide has said, “You see many brands doing good with cause-related marketing, but honestly, if the cause they are involved in is not fundamental to their brand, what good does it do? Brands are like humans. You can see quickly if they’re faking it.”

About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

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