ANA Campaigns Against 'Purpose-Washing,' Releases Industry Guidelines To Prevent It

Four years after members of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) named “brand purpose” their word of the year (for 2018), the association this morning released guidelines for brand marketers to avoid so-called “purpose-washing.”

The ANA did not explain the timing of the release, or whether the prevalence of purpose-washing has been increasing, but said the new guidelines were developed by its Center for Brand Purpose – in collaboration with senior marketers, agency executives, educations and other “purpose experts” – to head it off.

Purpose-washing, a term that has evolved in recent years, means the practice of a brand falsely – or less than earnestly – presenting itself as operating with a higher societal purpose when it is mainly using it just to promote the brand.



While the ANA didn’t explain the reason for the timing of the new guidelines, in a statement, CEO Bob Liodice noted, “Today’s customers have high expectations of brands that claim to be purposeful. But it’s not enough to articulate purpose through words or one-off campaigns. Brands must consistently demonstrate their purpose through authentic, honest, and transparent actions. When brands root purpose in authenticity in everything they do, they can become forces for good in the world and drive growth.”

The ANA’s new guidelines are based on six principles “for avoiding purpose-washing,” including:

  • Develop a strategic and enduring purpose statement. Purpose is an organization’s reason for being. It should state why it matters that the company exists. It is not a statement of what it wants to accomplish.

  • Root purpose in authenticity, human insights, and business strategy. Recognize that an authentic purpose will always be more important than short-term trends.

  • Create systems and processes to manage purpose. Ensure purpose is the foundation of all brand activities, business functions, strategies, goals, and outcomes through the strategic planning process.

  • Integrate purpose into organizational culture. Understand that while purpose is important all throughout an organization, it must be championed by the C-suite and Board of Directors and embraced with conviction by middle management.
  • Empower stakeholders to act alongside the organization. Recognize that stakeholders are people first and include customers, government officials, policymakers, industry professionals, and employees.
  • Measure the impact of purpose. Develop key qualitative and quantitative metrics to measure success.
2 comments about "ANA Campaigns Against 'Purpose-Washing,' Releases Industry Guidelines To Prevent It".
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  1. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, September 7, 2022 at 2:14 p.m.

    Perhaps an example of purpose washing in and of itself.....

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., September 7, 2022 at 2:27 p.m.

    @George Simpson: Doh!

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