How to create a strong brand purpose

Our Creative Strategist, Bella Ali-Khan, shares her thoughts on how brands can incite real change amongst their consumers, by finding their true purpose.

by Bella Ali-Khan | Ethical | 30 June 2021

When brands take a stand

Purpose and a powerful message in advertising has long been the marketer’s Holy Grail. Yet, more often than not, brands can come across as inauthentic, their campaigns seen through instantly by weary and increasingly cynical, media-savvy audiences. No one likes to feel manipulated, especially by a brand trying to sell products on the back of a story that’s as believable as a parent in a Santa suit.  

So what does it take for creative marketing to really ignite change? How can we encourage people to engage with a brand’s message and act on it – or at the very least, get it on their radar, and keep it there? 

Creative expertise is not enough. If you want to build a purpose led brand that people will believe in, then it has to be built upon a foundation of honest, tangible values that will resonate with its audience and spark that emotional connection.

Ask, don’t tell

Paying attention to human behaviour, trends and asking, ‘What do you want?’ rather than telling audiences, ‘This is what you need,’ is the route to an authentic relationship. Only once this connection is made do we, as marketers, hold the power to ignite change – in outlook, opinion, and ultimately, behaviour.

One of the ways brands are cutting through is finding relatable issues that audiences are connecting with, and using their brand as the megaphone.  

The pandemic shone a light on a plethora of global social issues, uniting nations in a collective challenge, and people responded with passion and compassion. Some global brands saw the opportunity to tap into the global conversation, jumping into bed with issues such as climate change, mental health and racial inequality to demonstrate a caring, compassionate side to their audiences. A proliferation of ‘We Care’ social campaigns followed, as brands jostled to move into the ‘purposeful’ brand space. Conscious consumers, however, are not so easily fooled. A sudden social conscience is as transparent as an unbelievable story, and in many cases, just as damaging. No authenticity = no connection.

Brands sparking change

To really spark change and create a presence, brands need to do more than just empathise – they need to take a stand and show their brand has a voice too. Dove’s Reverse Selfie campaign encouraged adults to be aware of how social media is sculpting body-image ideals in young women. The campaign shows the mask (photo filters) that a young girl feels she needs to reach an accepted standard of beauty. It’s a very honest campaign, and a very real issue. Dove communicated their authentic opinion on a topical issue that people feel strongly about. They listened, had something powerful to say, and found that connection.  

Showing awareness and inciting change doesn’t always require a splashy campaign though. Brands like Absolut Vodka and Ben & Jerry’s have been using their packaging to voice the issues important to them for many years. Since 1987 Ben & Jerry’s have mobilised their brand to inspire awareness and lobby for change through social justice-themed ice cream flavours on issues including global warming, LGBTQ+ rights and criminal injustice. Their recent ‘Cone Together’ campaign supported their fight for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, attracting commentary from British MPs. 

Many brands take a disruptive approach and support trending issues, but they have to put their money where their mouth is. If you are speaking up against climate change, is your product recyclable or low-emissions impact? If you participated in Black Lives Matter protests, how is that reflected in your hiring policy, do you have diversity and equality practices? Stood up with victims of #metoo? How many executive positions are held by a female employee? Consumers are aware of marketing ploys to ‘show you care’ and they won’t fall for the fake ones. Follow through and be transparent, don’t take the risk of being called out with empty promises.

When pubs and restaurants were preparing to reopen, Tesco took a softer approach, using their ad spend to create a simple message of solidarity with the hard times the hospitality industry had faced. This gesture was incredibly well received by audiences as it showed their awareness, and encouraged a positive behaviour change.  

When we look at those brands that ignite meaningful change, it’s clear they can only do so when they find a true purpose. They observe the topical issues important to their audiences and respond authentically in their own tone of voice. Creating change and having a conscious purpose isn’t for every brand. If you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk.  

At Catch a Fire we’re passionate about helping purposeful brands to succeed. We aim to empower our clients with the right message so that when audiences look up, they see a brand with purpose, and nothing else.