strategy

Is Purpose Marketing Pointless? When Convenience Beats Conscience

Most of the business world is still swilling the brand purpose Kool-Aid, spending vast amounts of time and money trying to communicate their higher calling.

The everyone-says-so premise goes something like this: A clear brand purpose, a meaningful mission and transparency with consumers is essential, especially with millennial and Gen Z consumers.

Yet if purpose is so important, why are many of the brands consumers use most more or less, well, loathsome, governed by sinister tech overlords?

Anas Ghazi, growth officer at Kantar, tells Marketing Daily why purpose pales in comparison to convenience.

Marketing Daily: We’ve all heard plenty about how a higher purpose matters. But let’s start with Facebook. It’s plummeted in corporate reputation, and is currently the most hated company in the U.S. Its stock is at an all-time high, and no one seems to be deleting Facebook or Instagram. Why?

Anas Ghazi: It’s an uncomfortable truth. Purpose does matter in some categories. But overall, customers do what is convenient.

People are so time-starved they won’t give up convenience for social justice. That’s why movements like the short-lived “#DeleteUber” effort or protests against Amazon are so ineffective.

Deleting Uber would mean that I have to go out and hail a cab, and that’s a pain. When it comes to platforms, we are in a time crunch, with a head-to-head race between what we believe and what is convenient. 

MD: So why all the fuss about purpose then, if consumers don’t care?

Ghazi: When it comes to certain categories, like consumer packaged goods or fashion or apparel, [purpose] matters a lot. 

Nike is a great example of a company that is benefiting from purpose. Its stand on race -- not just with the Colin Kaepernick ads, [but with] its imagery of a fencer in a hijab, and with Serena Williams -- it’s all quite brave. It has taken a stance in a narrative that impacts most of the world, right now. 

Look at what’s being tweeted politically. Race is top of mind, and it definitely impacts all Americans. 

Yet Nike’s use of it doesn’t feel like it’s premeditated. It’s organic and emotional. And it resonates with anyone who has had the experience of failing and then rising from the ashes. 

MD: Why does purpose matter in categories like apparel?

Ghazi: You’ve got so many options. Intervals between purchases give you much more time to think about it. You have time to make a moral judgment, so brands no longer have the luxury of ambivalence. Nike has the bravery to get into the messy middle, and tackle the conversation of race as it’s unfolding.

MD: For years, tech companies were among the most admired -- for innovation, for disruption, for ease of use. Now they are villains, often reviled as the worst kinds of corporate citizens, including Amazon and Google. 

Yet we all use them all day, every day, without a thought. What would it take to turn consumers against them?

Ghazi: In a sense, I think people view tech companies like utilities.

MD: Meaning, we don’t like them, but we need them?

Ghazi: Yes. There has to be a viable alternative.

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