In-depth: 'Purpose-driven advertising should first solve the purpose of brand's existence'

Advertising veterans say that purpose has become the utmost important factor for brands today which is why not all work that the creative agencies do today is pro bono but is actually aimed at building the brands for the long term

Shreya Negi
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In-depth: 'Purpose-driven advertising should first solve the purpose of brand's existence'

Amidst all the buzzwords prevalent in the advertising galore of India, ‘purpose-led marketing’ has become a must-have for brands that deal in the contemporary world for it helps them weather all sorts of storms by staying anchored in the minds of the consumers.

Rohit Ohri

Rohit Ohri, Chairman and CEO, FCB Group India, opines that most often, people confuse purpose-driven marketing as “work for charitable organisations” or “work outside the business purview of brands” which is really not the case.

In fact, in his views, the significant shift in purpose-driven advertising happened at least about a decade back, where essentially brands were moving to purpose in their approach to lead the brand and what function the same serve in the lives of human beings through ways that can better improve the lives of the consumers.

“The definition of a brand's purpose in marketing is not about selling the brand but what the brand really does in the real lives of the target audience- does it liberate them, enable them to express themselves better, or even take better care of the people and the planet, whatever may be the purpose of their existence,” he said.

Joy Mohanty

Sharing a similar viewpoint, Joy Mohanty, Chief Creative Officer, Dentsu Creative India, said that while purpose-driven ideas are most certainly on the rise, the emphasis today is not on just chasing an inspiring goal, but putting that purpose into actual practice and into solutions that work on-ground because consumers also build a stronger affinity with brands that think of them beyond the sale.

“The brands and agencies that are doing this right are reframing the conversation with authenticity centred around the product. Purpose only works when it is authentic and gives the consumer a demonstrable solution to a problem. You have to walk the talk. These new solutions are what endear consumers to brands, as well as increase their willingness to pay. People like brands that stand for something,” he added.

Ohri also mentioned the classic example of Uber’s brand purpose which is to democratise mobility because why should only some people who can afford to purchase a vehicle have their own personal mobility or that of Google and ChatGPT which stand for the democratisation of information and creativity, respectively.

“Purpose-led marketing is the most prominent and significant truth of advertising today. In FCB, we believe that purpose is the fundamental thing that helps a brand weather storms because a brand with a purpose is harder to kill owing to the fact that it is deeply rooted into the lives of customers via human-first advertising,” he said.

Mukund Olety

As per Mukund Olety, Chief Creative Officer, VMLY&R, as well, consumers today want to be associated with brands that stand for something and brands that do and not just say, which is why it’s the consumers themselves who are driving brands to create work that is purposeful.

He also shared a similar viewpoint as FCB’s Ohri when he stated that a lot of people have a misconception that purpose-driven work is often pro-bono. “Far from it, brands invest a lot in creating work that has a direct impact on the community. Take for example the Suvidha Centre by Unilever. It is changing the way people live in the slums of Mumbai,” he opined.

He then went on to give another example of brands that are driving behavioural change exercise and are getting people to wash their hands or brush their teeth because even though it's purpose-led work that’s also good for the business.

However, not all purpose-work is good work and will therefore have an impact on the brand or people because, at the end of the day, purpose-driven work has to be genuine, solve a real problem or an issue and be transformative, Olety stated.

Vishnu Srivatsav

Vishnu Srivatsav, National Creative Director, 22Feet Tribal Worldwide, shared the belief that good purpose-driven campaigns have been around for a while now because a company’s social efforts are always driven by its purpose and its guiding values, and this eventually translates to advertising as well. Also, one such example that he fondly remembers is that of ‘Jaago Re!’

“I think there’s enough powerful product-centric advertising around as well, with Apple being a beacon there. One of the film Grands Prix was awarded to Apple’s RIP Leon film for its undo send feature on the iPhone,” he opined.

He emphasised that today, clients like agencies believe that every marketing mix is bespoke and driven by the values, tone and purpose of the brand, therefore, if the brand believes in a purpose as well as makes great products, the marketing mix would include both.

“It’s eventually a question of which conversation you have a right to participate in,” he said.

Furthermore, Ohri also denoted that the difference between buying a product and buying into a product is relatively simple because when one buys into the product, he/she buys into the philosophy of the product and what it means to him/her in life, making one feel a sense of loss if that product or the brand is not there anymore and that is the biggest differentiator for purpose-led advertising.

“In many cases, some companies are genuinely doing work for the betterment of society out of their CSR budgets, for they have very aligned thinking. Therefore, they work on these projects for a very long period and do not rush into doing pro-bono work just for the sake of awards,” he added.

With creativity being the economic multiplier that it is, purpose-led work also has the ability to deliver economic benefits to clients or brands. Therefore, most of the juries at Cannes Lions also interrogate the integrity of the idea in terms of what the idea doing for the brand’s sales, the FCB adman highlighted.

Falling in line with these, ad campaigns such as Ariel’s Share The Load, P&G’s The Missing Chapter, Dove’s Stop The Beauty Test, which build on the brand promise and Cadbury’s Forced Packs and Unilever’s Vim Black for Men which advertise for unconventional products have seen the light of day.

Sharing his views, Mohanty also denoted that if the solution is audacious, the work will be famous and that is the best calling card to win new consumers for brands and new clients for agencies and that what purpose needs, at the brand and company level, is a buy-in at the highest leadership levels for it in this case becomes ‘personal’ for everyone in the team.

“Today, more and more clients want this to work in the right way – authentic impact that is bolted on the product and when they see proof of that in an agency’s reel, making a choice is a no-brainer,” he added.

Commenting on the challenges faced by agencies in building purpose-led brands year after year, Ohri asserted that the biggest one is that of “long-termism” because a brand’s growth is similar to that of trees as both of them grow through life stages. Purpose is what really becomes the anchor or the deepest root of the brand and consumers become the leaves for they may grow old and step out of the target audience bracket of the brands and new ones grow old to replace them.

“In the post-pandemic year, a lot of the pressure has come on volumes and sales, amongst other criteria for companies and brands, and the whole thing of meeting the targets today versus building the brand for tomorrow is the biggest issue that requires a balance. Hence, we at FCB focus on building timely and timeless brands with longevity,” he opined.

brand building Mukund Olety FCB Group India Rohit Ohri Dentsu Creative VMLY&R purpose Joy Mohanty purpose-led advertising pro bono CSR initiative longevity