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Purpose becomes real when it’s personal

To adopt a cause is no longer enough for brands, now they must help make a difference, writes Rain’s Kavita Ramrakhiani.

We all know the story. It began with brands that were built on rational benefits. Then there was emotional benefit, and then came ‘brand purpose’. What we originally knew as cause marketing or CSR campaigns got a whole new meaning through an idea propagated by former Procter & Gamble CMO Jim Stengel in his
2011 book Grow. He believed and proved that many large-scale advertisers and brands found success with ideas and campaigns that focused on societal issues and causes. To have a brand purpose is to have a shared goal of improving people’s lives – the higher-order benefit a brand brings to its customers.

Purpose is what happens when brands grow up.
Over the years, we have seen highly effective purpose/cause-related campaigns. For example, Dove standing up for women’s self-esteem, and Always un-stereotyping girls. Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand Study reported that nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of consumers around the world make purchases based on what a company stands for. But over the years, purpose/cause-led marketing has gained something of a reputation as merely a front or a façade, with an increasing number of brands jumping on the bandwagon of ‘let’s address a societal problem and win an award while doing that’.
Case in point: Pepsi and Kendall Jenner. The ad starring Jenner, intended to promote unity, plunged Pepsi into its lowest consumer perception levels in a decade. A brand’s attempt to be the voice of the young ended up taking attention from serious movements like Black Lives Matter. Hence the backlash. Jumping on the purpose/cause bandwagon without credibility can cause damage to a brand, especially given the high levels of cynicism on social media and brands under constant scrutiny. Pepsi forgot something very fundamental in its attempt to stand for a larger purpose/cause.

It forgot that people are purpose-driven
today, maybe more than brands. People can choose purpose-driven brands over plain old brands. However,
this purpose needs to be aligned and attuned to their values. This is a shift one can see in effective and highly awarded brand purpose campaigns in the last two years at Cannes. From mere appropriation or riding
the social change wave to making a difference, these brands are equally passionate about being as meaningful
as the people who buy them.

So what did they get right?
Real action is driven when brands strike the right balance of being local and personal. These brands don’t evoke empathy but get people to identify with their purpose, and that generates real action. Sweeping do-good mission statements can only do so much to get noticed and a nod of approval from people.

Real action needs a personal stimulus.
Ariel’s ‘Share the load’ was a Cannes Gold winner in 2017. It pushed for a movement for men – initially husbands, and later fathers – to share the household laundry chores. ‘Share the load’ highlighted an issue prevalent in most Indian households: laundry is seen as solely a woman’s responsibility, whether she goes to work or stays at home. It also highlighted the huge gender divide that prevails in modern India, where household duties are seen as being a woman’s pride and glory. While the insight was spot-on, this initiative did
something more than just highlight a  problem; it made women and men across the country say, “Yes, this has happened or continues to happen to me.” More than 2 million men pledged to share the laundry chores because of the activity.
When brands decide to become personal, they are faced with a harsh reality: People like solutions more than
they like brands saying they want to help. The solutions could be via a direct benefit to them or real  contributions towards making the world a better place, versus just crusading. Being authentic in providing solutions is a big part of making a purpose personal.
Saltwater Brewery created edible six-pack rings to combat the problem of packaging ending up in the ocean and harming marine life. Savlon helped combat hand hygiene in rural India by creating Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks, soap-infused chalk sticks, which form an active part of a child’s school life. The chalk residue on the hands works like soap when it meets water, helping tackle the issue of hand hygiene among schoolchildren. These ‘real solutions’ helpbrands to create a sincere relationship  with the people they are talking to.
The days of a brand’s purpose being defined by its ability to highlight a societal issue may soon be past. True purpose lies in a brand’s ability to make it personal for people. Make it real. Make the solutions authentic. True purpose is here to stay. Nigel Hollis, chief analyst at Millward Brown, asks a very poignant question when it comes to cause-related work: “How does your brand serve people?
That’s where you need to start; not with the advertising.”

KAVITA RAMRAKHIANI, Head of strategic planning at Rain.

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