Ekta Relan
Guest Article

Purpose is purposeful only when...

Here are three thoughts...

You may still be figuring out your life's purpose, but knowing your brand purpose has become the pre-requisite for every marketer. Effies or Cannes, 'purpose' is the new wave. (Where are those crazy beer and chips ads? I miss them).

David Fischer, head of advertising, Facebook, recently said, "Purpose-driven marketing is here to stay". Of course, he would want that, given that the medium making the most money out of these long format purposeful narratives is social media.

Purpose is purposeful only when...

Ekta RelanA decade ago the conversation that began with 'What is your single-minded proposition?' has now become 'What is your brand purpose?' The result: Today, every other brand has a 'purpose'. And a heart-rending commercial comes with the package.

Maybe when most brands were about 'whiter than white' kind of claims, anything with a bit of 'purpose' got attention. But not anymore. Today they are a cluster of their own. Many created sensation with one-off work, but haven't truly made the brand unanimous to that. Polarising issues like gender, race, under-privilege circumstances, and challenging societal norms; isn't assurance for success.

I'm not saying 'purpose-driven marketing' doesn't work. All research that says that people trust brands that support a cause is all true. 'Purpose' does give a higher reason of being; a human connect with the audience. It works, but only when done correctly and with honesty and rigour. And unless the brand is ready to do all of this, they should avoid it.

A lot has been said to explain 'why' one should have a brand purpose; it is time to understand the 'how'. It's time to assess just what makes 'purpose' purposeful. Three thoughts:

Core: The only entertaining parts of the otherwise disheartening India vs. England women's world cup final were the commercial breaks. Suddenly, many brands wanted to talk women empowerment. One such was Vivel with 'Ab samjhauta nahin'? The narrative came across as trying to sell soap with 'lotus' as an ingredient. To make such a bold women's liberation message with credibility, one needs a stronger connect with the brand; what it has been and the role it plays in people's life. Another recent one with a similar issue was Mirinda's 'Release the pressure', the campaign asking us to rethink the pressure we put on kids for exams. We wonder 'What has given a carbonated drink like Mirinda the right to teach us this?' These ads, therefore, didn't feel sincere.

Empathy, in the social context, is important, but what's equally important is to be true to the brand's context. 'Purpose' needs to come from the core of the brand. Surf Excel's purpose to not let dirt come in the way of good, works beautifully as being a laundry detergent, the removal of dirt is its inherent role.

A purpose that sits at the kernel of the brand becomes the force that guides everything the brand does; its communication, product or business. Tiffany's purpose is to help people celebrate joyful moments of love. To enable this they create beautifully crafted products for moments of love without any prejudice, be it between a man and a woman or man and a man.

Credibility: People know that a brand cannot save the world. And when a brand pretends to do so with just one film, people see through it. To be authentic, the brand needs to walk the talk and do real things.

Havells presented the voice of every Indian woman who wants to tell her family and society - 'I am not a kitchen appliance'. A brilliant thought leading to a great purpose - Respect for women; the most basic need of an Indian woman. This could potentially go beyond TV with some real initiatives. An opportunity missed.

Genuine work serving your brand purpose makes it a mission, one that the audience wants to be part of. Tata Tea, each time with their 'Jaago re' campaign, had a program of on-ground offline activities that support their online propaganda. Now, with 'Alarm bajne se pehle jaago re', the brand supports many initiatives; education of gender sensitivity and petition to have sports as a compulsory subject, all to encourage the behaviour of 'pre-activism', an act to prevent unfortunate things.

Continuum: The toughest piece of the mix. If you want buzz, then an emotional or bold commercial can create it. However, in this world of short-lived memory, this isn't going to do anything in the long term for the brand. Coming in the top 10 twitter trending topics means nothing. It is redundant the very next week.

Dabur Vatika's Cancer ad created conversations, but what happened after that? Another opportunity missed to make it a true purpose. For a purpose that seeps into the DNA of the brand - create an on-going program, keep the fire ignited and inspire people again and again in new ways. Here is the challenge - creating interest in a new thought is one thing, but to arouse the same level of interest subsequently is difficult. This hyper-active era demands that we tell more stories, in more places and each time be more surprising.

To keep us engaged in 'real beauty', Dove comes with new ways every few months - real beauty sketches, Change the Rhyme, social experiments and so on. Similarly, Tata Tea had to find new ways to keep people interested in 'Jaago re'. Thus came 'Alarm bajne se pehle Jaago re'.

Purpose becomes a powerful force, but only when it comes from the core of your brand and is done credibly over a continuum of time.

(The author is Planning Head of Mullen Lintas)

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