Brand purpose? The 90's are over.

It was all the rage. Brand purpose was EVERYWHERE.

I mean, just look at all the Apple work. McDonald’s. It’s almost as if they were UNICEF.

Many brands obsess over purpose.

The reality is, that for most they pretend their purpose isn’t ‘to make money and get rich’, isn’t that the reason most businesses exist?

We get briefs to the effect of ‘how do we refine our brand purpose?’ we want to be like the ‘World Vision’ of ‘Cosmetics’. But more and more we realised that Brand Purpose isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, for many brands, who aren’t actually converting their lofty ‘make the world a better place’ statements into reality, how can you? It’s a bit of a waste of time – an empty promise to people who probably don’t really believe it anyway.

Best example we read recently in an excellent article by Richard Wise was of a spoof skit telling the story of a young Mexican girl struggling to climb over the border wall and the hardship of getting into America followed up by the end frame:


It just shows how ‘brand purpose’ and telling stories about these kinds of world issues can often fall flat when theoretically irrelevant for a brand.



McDonald’s isn’t going to get the Heart Foundation tick on all their meals, Coca Cola isn’t protecting the environment, the rainforests of our water sources, Commbank isn’t handing cash back to low income customers or making home loans more achievable for single mums. None of them will do ads about those things being their vision - although it might be implied from time to time. The reason is because almost always people will call bullshit. Treading a fine line like P&G can start to look really sick. What’s a company that makes razors doing talking about racism? It could be brilliant, but I’m not sure.

But, creative licence, right?

Let’s clarify. Lynx won’t make the opposite sex attracted to you, but they puff that notion up a bit as a bit of fun in almost all their ads for the product since the beginning of time – it’s certainly not their ‘brand purpose’. This is different to what we’re talking about though. This is fun, games & playful puffery.


What’s actionable out of all of this?

Brands should focus more on what they DO, than what they ARE – show who you are by the things you actually do, rather than what you say you’re going to do. Brands that focus on getting out there and doing things that are achievable, measurable, cost-effective and naturally part of their brand/product spheres are going to be much more associated with those things than brands, for example, who say they’re environmentally minded, but then do the exact opposite in reality.  Coca Cola could develop new packaging that breaks down or is significantly more recyclable - THEN, they could talk about the environment. But not until then.


Back it up!

If you are going to go ‘lofty’ then back it up. Coles said they’d make things cheaper, so they did. But when they got caught out for pre-inflating prices to drop, giving the impression they’d really made the item cheaper, they got smashed. I dare say jobs were lost, certainly their PR agency would have been in early morning coffee-drenched crisis meetings. Also, when they dropped the prices of their milk and put even more pressure on farmers to the point where the government was called in to talk everyone off the ledge… Yowzers.  


So if you’re not going to save the world, play to your strengths instead, be realistic and don’t kid yourself when going through various incarnations of your brand identity on a page. It’s one thing to be proud of your company, but pride shouldn’t mean delusions of grandeur.


Instead of ‘purpose’, talk about ‘mission’, and tie that back to the active reality of your organisation or customer – not where you think the world is headed.


Our mission is to make great work for clients we enjoy working with.


We’re not all about saving the Amazon, and bringing back the unicorns. Although we’d give it a hot crack if we thought we can do something about it.


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John Paul Wager