Advertising Week New York: Purpose Should be the Norm, Not a Niche

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The word purpose gets thrown around quite a bit when it comes to brands and their communication efforts. While it can be perceived positively, some worry that purpose marketing could also be used to provoke profits over good intentions. 

At Advertising Week New York 2021, panelists tackled the issue, referencing campaigns and examples, including climate change and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). And in every scenario the conversation reached a similar conclusion—a company must care about an issue to connect authentically with audiences. Consumers are too smart to be patronized. They know when and if a brand is doing something just for profit and the result will not be good. 

Make it the Norm

In the session “Storytelling to Truth Telling: The Strategy Behind Creating Great Work,” Ambika Pai, chief strategy officer at Mekanism, asked, “Why do we even have to make the case that inclusive work is good for business?” Pai used this example when explaining her work with Frida, a solution-based parenting brand that develops products for everything from postpartum comfort care to breast care during lactation. Pai said actually talking to people, rather than just referring to data and insights, as well as leaning in to team members’ experiences creates brand integrity.

“How that [parental] consumer is addressed in this rose-tinted world view, is so different from lived experience,” Pai said. For its ads, Mekanism cast real moms going through various stages of breastfeeding, something that panelist Melissa Hobley, global chief marketing officer at OkCupid, noticed. 

“No one [in ads] said, ‘Breastfeeding is hard,'” Hobley said. "It’s exhausting and awful. I had to sit on a bathroom floor at a Dallas airport while I pumped. So, I loved that [Frida] ad. My friends were sharing it, and that’s when you know you are on to something.” 

Hobley said true purpose messaging acknowledges conversations that many may shy away from publicly. 

“Dating apps surged in COVID because it was the only way to meet people and talk,” she said. “We realized no one in the dating app category was saying, ‘We are here for you.’ We put the words non-binary, pansexual, non-monogamous on our ads all over the world. The reaction we got from many people [was thankful] for making them feel like [these topics] were less taboo.”

Meet Your Audience

Alexandra Cameron, SVP, unified partnerships, at iHeartMedia, said that even a large organization can pay attention to audience needs. During the session “How Purpose-Driven Organizations are Setting a New Standard,” Cameron explained how iHeartMedia “Show Your Stripes” veterans' initiative originated. 

“A senior executive was sitting beside a veteran on a flight," she said. “The veteran said he couldn’t find a job... and it identified a much larger problem for [our audience]. It became a rally cry across all our channels, to influence employers to hire veterans. Now there is an 18-year-low for veteran unemployment. Over 200,000 applications have been processed through this program.”

During the “Climate Crisis 2021: Necessary Narrative Shifts” session, John Marshall, head of North America digital activation at HP, said that an unlikely call to purpose came from inside his home. 

“My kid came up to me and said, 'No one is doing anything about climate change, and it sucks,'” Marshall said. "It’s the hardest product you are ever trying to sell. Actions seem like they are so small, and we’ve got to change the entire basis of the global economy really fast. It’s not something people think about on a daily basis, so how do you make climate change relevant to the average consumer?" 

HP joined the AdCouncil and ScienceMoms—11 scientists making content to get out the message. Recent global research from the UK found 60 percent of students surveyed felt either "very" or "extremely" worried about climate change. So, getting young people interested isn’t a problem. Getting their parents to participate and care is the challenge. But, Marshall said, making it personal, particularly with mothers, works for encouraging the conversation. 

“The thing that moves human beings the most is when someone like them is affected,” he said. “Something needs to happen for our children. Take something from the community and think about how it affects them.”

Added Jose Molla, founder and chief creative officer of The Community, messaging and solutions (which exist) need to be provided to show parents that it's not too late. 

“Business can be a force for nature, not against it,” Molla said. “We can all inject optimism in this space—because apocalyptic [messaging] can be paralyzing.”

Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal