There follows a guest post by Chris Bullick, CEO of the Pull Agency, a creative branding agency and consultancy, on his recent survey, which found that the public are much less enthusiastic about brands supporting woke causes than the marketers pushing the agendas.
As a marketer who started my career at fast-moving consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (Ariel, Fairy Liquid, Olay etc.) in the 80s, I have watched the saga around what is called ‘brand purpose’ unfold with weary amazement over the last decade or so. What I saw from the start were brand managers, typically just custodians of brands that others had built (they were standing on their predecessors’ shoulders) bringing their personal worldview, or even their politics to the brands they were advertising. This could never have happened back in the day, it would have been seen as laughably unprofessional. But in some major brand houses it has not only become the norm, but preached as best practice. What on earth has happened?
What is brand purpose? It used to simply mean what a brand was there for. You know: Hellmann’s Mayonnaise (Unilever), put on your salad; Gillette razors (P&G), give you a good shave. But then brand purpose got redefined. Mayonnaise? Fronting the war against food waste. Razors? Fronting the war against ‘toxic masculinity’ (no, don’t ask, women can’t be toxic).
The most notable proponent of brand purpose has been Alan Jope, who became CEO of Unilever in 2019. He has said that brands with ‘purpose’ increase sales twice as fast as those without. Jope capped his first year as CEO with a profit warning that wiped more than £8bn off Unilever’s market cap. Since then its market cap has fallen 25% while P&G, Nestle, and L’Oréal values have all increased around 50%.