Don’t Lose Sight of Purpose; Truth Should Be Your North Star
Nothing disrupts like the truth.
For brands looking to cut through, now would be a good time to remember that fact. As we look back on another International Women’s Day, I’m reminded of how difficult it really is to build a campaign around an authentic, actionable purpose which identifies and communicates an inarguable, relevant truth. Difficult - but essential.
With so many moving pieces built into a modern campaign, losing sight of your purpose is unfortunately all too easy when it isn’t a focus. Audiences are smart, and they have high expectations. Purpose, therefore, isn’t something you can vaguely gesture towards with throwaway remarks.
So how should brands go about communicating based on an authentic purpose? And why is truth the most powerful asset marketers can draw upon? I believe that, in order to answer these questions, we need to unpick and dispel two myths which are clouding our understanding.
Myth One: ‘The Pandemic Levelled The Playing Field’
At some point over the last twelve months, you might have heard that the Covid pandemic was a great leveller for brands. All of a sudden, the logic goes, every brand faced the same challenges in getting its messages out to audiences whose priorities and values had been totally upended.
There’s a slither of truth in that, but the idea that the pandemic somehow levelled the playing field for all of us is laughable. In keeping with the theme of International Women’s day, just look at how difficult the past twelve months have been for women. More women than men have been placed on furlough and made redundant, 72% of mothers have had to cut their working hours because of childcare issues, and women have experienced an uptick in online sexual harassment whilst working from home.
On top of that, the pandemic has been immensely challenging for homeless people. According to government statistics, the number of people living rough in London alone has shot up by 23% since the start of March last year.
In truth, the pandemic has exacerbated many of the inequalities which were already present in our society. At FCB Inferno, this guided our thinking when working on a collaboration between LinkedIn and The Big Issue. Given the extreme circumstances of the pandemic, homeless people working with The Big Issue were suffering. Part of the problem was that, when you sell a copy of The Big Issue, you aren’t just taking a profit. You’re also improving your confidence, and expanding your network. That’s not such an easy thing to replicate in the online world.
A large part of The Big Issue’s purpose has always been offering a hand-up to the disadvantaged, rather than a handout. They needed a solution which would empower their vendors, as well as generate money for them. What we landed on was a collaborative project with LinkedIn, whereby Big Issue vendors would receive training for a premium LinkedIn account, and get connected with the people they’d normally sell magazines to - plus the chance to reach out to their connections.
So, no, the pandemic hasn’t levelled any kind of playing field. What it has done, however, is forced brands and creatives to think of new ways to communicate and act upon their purpose. And that, at the end of the day, is how you disrupt markets and turn heads.
Myth Two: ‘You Can Half-Ass Your Purpose’
Okay, perhaps this is something of an unspoken myth. It is, however, all-too pervasive - and the results of this mindset can undermine campaigns in subtle ways.
When we showed a tampon in a spot for This Girl Can, for example, we didn’t do it because we wanted a quick media buzz about tampons. We did it because it was based on an insight that this was yet another barrier for women to overcome, and it needed to be normalised. When you base your communications on authentic truths, disruption will come naturally.
Purpose needs to run deep. It needs to be your North Star. Modern audiences are looking at brands through the prism of how well they pay their staff, how ethical their supply chains are, where their profits are being re-invested, and how sustainable their business model is. You can’t simply pay lip service to problems which are this complex.
Despite how often we talk about purpose, there can often be a misunderstanding about precisely what it means. ‘Doing something good for the world’ is an awfully narrow definition, for example. In truth, your purpose can be commercial - that’s totally fine. During the summer months of last year, Happiness worked with the federation of Belgian cafes to help café and bar owners recover outside of lockdown. Their idea, named ‘Helpy Hour’, was to reverse the classic ‘buy one get two’ offer. Instead, customers had the option to buy one drink for the price of two, allowing local businesses to recoup some of what they lost whilst their doors were closed.
So there’s nothing wrong with having a purpose which is based on the commercial needs of a business (so long as it is a ‘need’, and not greed). What matters is that your purpose is clear, and that it is based on a universally recognisable truth.
Nowhere To Hide
Ultimately, there are two key reasons why brands need an authentic purpose at their heart of their communications in 2021. Firstly, because truth is the best way to disrupt the market and earn people’s attention. And secondly, because audiences are too smart to be fooled. Saying you have a purpose won’t cut it - you need to show it.
So there’s no faking it. No cutting corners. The only thing we can do, therefore, is to live up to the ideals and purpose we espouse. At the end of the day, we won’t get away with anything less.