There are too many people on this planet. No sooner does a promising idea poke its head out of the egg, and everyone jumps atop it and crushes the bugger.
When virtually every speaker at the Association of National Advertisers’ recent convention sang the praises of purpose-driven marketing, it signaled that a fad had once again gripped the marketing world. Predictably, a backlash erupted, led by Todd Wasserman in Brandweek (Oct. 17), who had some severe words for marketers-cum-evangelists:
“Remember when marketers used to, y’know, market stuff? Well, now they’re doing God’s work. They’ve got purpose. Why the sudden shift to the noble and meaningful? … Psychologically, it’s a win-win. After all, marketers don’t have to feel bad for selling more stuff that will ultimately drain natural resources and end up in a landfill, while consumers can delude themselves into thinking that buying a bottle made of recycled plastic is akin to giving the ecosystem a big hug.”
This is a little strong. Wasserman fails to mention everything good about purpose-driven marketing, advantages communicated particularly well at the ANA convention by P&G Global Marketing Officer Mark Pritchard. While explaining how his business is shifting its focus from selling products to serving mothers, Pritchard pointed to Tide’s Loads of Hope, which helps launder clothing for disaster victims; P&G’s multi-brand Winter Olympics campaign, which celebrates athletes’ moms; and similar campaigns. According to Pritchard, effective purpose-driven marketing has five components:
-reinforcing the brand’s core benefit
-serving people with brands
-deep insights about people
-identifying the Big Idea.
This list leaves something out, though, and this absence may be what bothers Wasserman most:
-a certain level of sincerity in accomplishing all of the above.
Certainly, it’s been troubling to watch brand after brand jump on the cause-marketing/purpose-marketing bandwagon in 2010. Many of their causes have merit, and they are undoubtedly doing much good. But when the consumer faces a blizzard of brands wearing their charitable hearts on their sleeves, this blizzard becomes noise, and the consumer tunes it out. And when that happens, the consumer tunes out everything, the good and the bad. Which, of course, does harm to companies that truly want to help the world, and aren’t just striking a pose in a bid to gain mindshare.
So perhaps Wasserman’s complaint deserves attention. Maybe we should impose some kind of sincerity test on purpose-driven marketing plans, to weed out the ones that are merely following a fad, with no deep conviction or principle. This would open the field a bit for brands that do, in fact, care about their causes, and pursue their purposes with passion. Hopefully the noise would then diminish somewhat, and consumers might once again begin to pay attention when a brand invites them to do good, and to respect that brand for serving humanity as well as its shareholders.