We’ve all read about the major blunders in brand purpose-driven advertising (see: Starbucks Race Together and Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner “Protest” ad).

So what do these high-profile failures mean for brand purpose-driven advertising?

First, let’s all agree that for companies, purpose is important. Having a purpose helps unify and drive the business, it motivates employees to want to get up in the morning and perform at their best and it creates a sense of pride in customers who believe in what you stand for.

So, if purpose makes companies more successful and it’s what customers want, then it makes sense that every company should be able to build their marketing around that purpose, right?


The questions we need to ask ourselves are:

“How connected to the actual benefit or experience of our product is our brand purpose?”


“Will our brand purpose make for compelling advertising?”

The first question is very often where marketers fall short. This is, typically, for two reasons: 1) They’ve “laddered” their brand purpose so high up Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs that their purpose is something that is both exceptionally high-minded and incredibly irrelevant (ex: Coke’s “Open Happiness” campaign, which they recently moved away from) or 2) They’ve picked an issue of the day—immigration, race, gender, etc.—and tried to monetize it (see Pepsi and Starbucks above), which comes off as opportunist and tasteless.

The second question is more difficult to answer—and marketers need to work with all of their agency partners to determine the best way to figure it out. For example, both Nike and Walmart have undertaken massive initiatives to rework their value chains in a way that is more sustainable and produces better results for their customers and employees…but you won’t typically find those stories in their ad campaigns. At the end of the day, Nike exists to create athletic heroes and to motivate people to play sports, while Walmart is in business to provide quality products at low prices—so that’s what they advertise. You can find stories of their business transformation on their websites (here and here), social channels and in the media, but it’s not the leading way these brands connect with their customers.

So, before you go down the road to creating a high-minded, socially conscious ad campaign touting your brand purpose, take a minute and ask yourself: Is this purpose authentic? Does it connect with why people choose to do business with us? And does this make compelling advertising?

If the answer is “yes”, that’s great! But if it’s “no”, don’t worry. There will always be a need for simply well-made products that just “Does what it says on the tin.”