Why purpose-based advertising is the best trend ever

When I started in the ad industry, everyone’s goal was to create a print ad with only a picture and a tiny logo. Even better, would be if you could have no logo at all. Just a picture. One that would leave the general public scratching their heads and a few award show judges nodding theirs. That would be success. The award annuals were full of these. The textbooks we were reading were full of these. That was the trend towards the end of the 90s-ish.

When talking about working on ads in the 80s, I’ve heard colleagues say the ideation process consisted of “let’s do a music video style thing”. Typically with some women in bikinis wedged in there. Other eras have seen mascots, brand spokespeople or the USP. It’s toasted.

Of course, there was the creative revolution and Bill Bernbach. There was a lot of truth, honesty and humanity in that work, but the higher purpose was simply to do a great job of selling.

“If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.” - Bill Bernbach

Now the trend is for brands to stand for something. Anything. A greater purpose. A higher ideal. A why. Even if it only tenuously relates to the product. And it’s great. Yeah, I know this isn’t the popular opinion of my peers. But I believe no matter how tenuous the link, it’s still doing way more good for the world and your brand than men flying fighter jets through a bathroom while a man shaves. Here's Gillette then and now.

Go ahead, enjoy making the world a better place through how you spend the marketing budgets that cross your desk. Of course, the tighter that purpose ties to the actual product the better it will work. But sometimes boldly standing for something can lead that brand to behave in better ways more closely related to their stances like Nike, Dove. So just do it.

This current purpose-driven trend is helping to popularize acceptance, compassion, humanity and generally being good to one another. This industry has always been excellent at turning the tide of public opinion.  As Bernbach also said,

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

I had the fortunate opportunity to work with a Hollywood director who made a well-known, very moving Oscar-nominated film. We attended a fancy advertising award show together and she said she was really impressed with the humanity being reflected in advertising now. Something she wouldn’t have remarked in any other era. Some of those eras would have invoked quite an opposite reaction.

So go ahead. Embrace the trend. Stand for something. Really say something important. Make an impact. It feels good; way better than achieving the logo-less ad. It positively impacts sales too. There’s lots of data to back it up. And it’s always better than saying nothing or making a music video style thing.

If we all influence the general population to think and act with more humanity, that can lead to really big things. Like people feeling better about themselves. Or the right people winning elections.


If you want to hear me talk more about brand and purpose. I suggest you sign up for the webinar we are holding on Monday, September 30th at 9:30 AM MT. 

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