Brand purpose ‘ritualistically abused’ by marketers

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 25 May 2015

Companies such as Unilever have built brand purpose into the core of brand marketing strategies, but while it has evolved as a trend within marketing and advertising, its use as a tactic is also seen as an abuse of its positive roots.

Brand purpose has become “ritualistically abused” by marketers, said Joy director Andrew Wynne, speaking at the International Advertising Association’s breakfast forum in Sydney this week.

A panel of marketers – including Wynne, Kellogg marketing director John Broome, and Arno Lenior, Samsung’s CMO who is due to depart this week – discussed the role of brand purpose within marketing.

Brand purpose, said Wynne, is often mistaken as a tactic when it should be much deeper within an organisation.

“People confuse the two. Companies have purpose, and brands have benefits. Purpose is much more an organisational idea – it directs decisions. When we start applying it to brands I feel like it’s less high-level. The biggest issue with brand purpose is that its been ritualistically abused by marketers,” he said.

Where it is authentic and genuine, exploiting brand purpose in marketing can help grow a brand and lift sales, but Broome, who has to shift 100 million boxes of cereal a year, said a brand can just as easily grow without one. He adds that the average consumer isn’t thinking about Unilever’s brand purpose when they buy Dove.

When asked by panel chair Russel Howcroft, Channel Ten’s general manager – who has previously described brand purpose as “narcissistic” – what alternatives there were, Broome offered an answer.

“Certainly, in FMCG, brands can grow very successfully without a clear purpose. There’s other brand saliency points that do the job.

“Yes I agree that there is a fundamental connection and bond you can elicit with consumers through a strong brand purpose – but it’s not the only thing.”

“I’m a great believer in purpose … but establishing a purpose for any brand is a long journey. It’s not something you can create an ad for, stick it on air for six months and say: ‘Job done’. We have to practice what we preach,” he said.

Lenior said that Samsung identifying a strong global brand purpose is behind its growth and success over the last few years.

The panel was also in agreement that while purpose has become an advertising and marketing trend, most important is promoting it internally.

“Now we understand who are we, what we do and why we do it. It was galvanising for the organisation to understand our purpose. We landed on ‘accelerating discoveries and possibilities’ and now when anything goes into R&D or marketing or any part of the business, that is the first thought,” Lenior said.

“It has to be internalised before it can be external, but if the story is well told, it’s real and authentic, it doesn’t matter what medium you tell it on. Our brand purpose marketing helps people develop a relationship with the brand, gives people an affinity with Samsung that we didn’t have before.”

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