The Purpose of Purpose

toms-shoes-one-for-oneOh, little precious darlings.

You’ve been doing purpose wrong all this time, haven’t you?

All because studies have shown brands with a purpose out-perform those without?

(Richard Shotton takes that down here.)

Is it because people – especially millennials, those special unpeople people – like brands ‘with a purpose’, especially a ‘saving the world’ style purpose?

(The same millennials that wear sweatshop Nike, and unethical Primark, and fly polluting Easyjet all over the world.)

People (millennials? Are millennials even people? Debate for next post) don’t like brands because they have ‘a purpose.’

As if any ‘purpose’ would do.


Yes, Tom’s shoes are helping clad the feet of poor children globally – and many customers buy it simply because of that wonderful story.

But they’re the exception, not the rule.


People just like that you’re talking about something more interesting than your own product the whole time.

There’s a reason there’s sections of the newspaper devoted to world news, and science, and food, and health, and arts.

And not a section called ‘Information About Products.’

(Unless you count the Classifieds? And maybe Dating. They have their place.)


Ben & Jerrys talked about climate change and social justice, through ‘Peace, Love & Ice Cream. (And their founders still get arrested at protests.)

This got them the fame, awareness and press coverage to sell great ice cream all over the world.


Unilever has thrown its weight behind a belief in purpose-driven brands – and it’s right to do so.

Because I’d rather be shocked that children play outside for less time than prisoners (than see another washing machine ad.)

Because I’d rather feel good that poor children are being saved from disease through hand-washing (than see animated germs on a soap bottle.)

Because I’d rather see women campaign to feel good about their bodies (than a lady moisturising her legs.)

Because it’s simply more interesting.


That’s why the Pepsi ad was shit – because it was still about Pepsi, and about Kendall Jenner, not actually about police brutality, or the protest movement.

(Their protest signs said “Join the conversation”, for chrissake. The last protest I was at had “Trump is a cunt” and “This pussy grabs back”.)
Pepsi was a purpose-themed advert – not a purpose-led advert.


It’s not having ‘a purpose’ that’s good for a brand.

It’s making your purpose what you start with, what you talk about, and what you do.

And it’s the fact that your purpose is rooted in culture, not in your product.


Start with what’s interesting (in culture).

Then link back to what’s right (for your brand).


That’s what Purpose does for you – gives you something better to talk about than your product.

(And that’s also where it can go wrong, by coming completely unmoored from what you’re selling.)


But as a general rule,


And half your battle (for attention) is already won.

Twee, But Sinister

ZOcn1BME_400x400Would you trust someone who’s always smiling at you?

Marketers seem to be obsessed with their brand being shown in a positive light.

Perhaps it’s due to studies such as these, that show likability is strongly correlated with purchase.

(Though arguably it works the other way around – something you purchase more, you’re going to like more – familiarity complex.)

Or a spill-over from ideas of PR and social buzz, that brands must have a ‘positive’ sentiment, not negative.

Or just gut feeling, that being likeable as a brand must be good for sales.


The problem is that this idea of ‘positivity’ is seen as a way of getting to a good outcome, rather than a happy accident of a damn good marketing strategy.

So from the product itself (never mocked or made fun of or played with)

through to the people in the advert (everyone is beautiful and must smile)

to the whole tone of the advert (optimistic).

I can copy-paste the tone of campaigns between briefs: positive, optimistic, happy, joyful.

Where’s the differentiation in that?
FMCG marketers are the absolute worst for this.

They even try to brand it and bottle it as their sole purpose – Open Happiness; Taste The Feeling; Feel The Joy.

Let alone the success of Innocent setting off a whole spawn of cutesy, joyous imitators.

Yes, food and drink make people happy.

Thank you, basic survival instinct.


But, once upon a time, FMCG marketers understood they could have other tones – and to do so, would make them distinct and memorable in the marketplace.

(Byron Sharp’s wet dream.)


They could be twee, yet sinister.

They could be cannibals.

They could be the product of an affair.

Or hunted to death, like the Ribena berries, squished into the drink.

Or like Tango, they could be brutal and violent, starting happy slapping before its time.

(And props to my homie Thomas Keane’s ad for Homepride Fred, that was sinister enough to spawn horror film remixes.)


We live in a world in which teenaged Youtubers quickly knock all their edges off and bland-ify themselves in order to secure corporate sponsorship

(“Oh take this girl off the influencer list, she once did a video about how to put on a condom. Pick the guy who talks about how to cook pasta instead.”)

Maybe it’s time for corporations to reclaim radicalism.

(Did Pepsi fail because it didn’t go far enough?)


I want adverts for tea where the tea bags are selected for drowning; where the toast is ripped apart limb by limb; and where the cheesecake begins a guerrilla warfare style food fight.

Because hunger is as much savage as it is joyous.


(With thanks to planner Jack Carrington for the title & Unigate dwarves inspiration.)