Purpose is dead.
Long live purposeful disruption.
Rob Reilly, Global Chief Creative Officer, WPP
Small Business Saturday, the highly awarded idea from American Express nearly a decade ago, is often talked about as one of the first purpose-led marketing efforts to transcend the world of advertising. As part of the multi-agency and client collective that created the iconic day, I am proud we helped small businesses do more business during the recession of 2010. It also went on to win nearly every award on the planet, including two Grand Prix trophies at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. To me, awards are the by-product of doing the right thing for your clients, never the motivation. But winning those awards was a validation that our team had reached the pinnacle of creativity.
My personal and somewhat critical view of Small Business Saturday is that we got lucky. The idea was genius. The tools for small businesses were smart and intuitive. We successfully pushed the U.S. government to recognize Small Business Saturday as an official day with actual legislation. Even President Obama tweeted about it, which was crazy. That stuff was magic. It was the advertising campaign we did to promote it that was, well, kind of average. But back then, it didn’t matter because nobody was really doing purpose-led marketing. Those who did, like American Express, had their ideas explode in culture because the idea was extremely disruptive. The work didn’t need to be.
Since 2010, brands have continually stepped up with brilliant purpose projects to save the oceans, save the economy or anything else that needs saving. Some critics would even say purpose-led marketing has passed its shelf life. I certainly hope not. The great human race needs you to keep the foot pressed firmly on the purpose gas pedal, or better yet, the electricity pedal. Governments are strapped and just don’t have the ability to help people in the ways that they need to, so brands have often filled the void.
Think about the pandemic and how brands became the stability in people’s lives when they needed it most. Frankly, I am proud to be part of an industry that helped keep the big brands of the world thriving over the last two years. That being said, a purposeful product change alone is not going to get it done going forward. When it comes to how you promote it, you need a shot of Purposeful Disruption. A big bold move from your brand – one that embraces risk, steps outside norms, is promoted in a truly mind-blowing way, and brings about tangible change.
Purpose isn’t just good for the world. It’s very, very good for business. Look on any social media platform and evidence is everywhere. Consumers today are more vocal than ever, especially about the brands they are choosing (or not choosing) to engage with. And while they are cool with you making a profit, they also expect a lot more out of you. They want to know what you care about, what you support, and what your plan is to better their future before they hit the like button on their purchase. Whether it’s changing your product or changing your policies, “positive progress” is rewarded.
Many of our clients are masters of purposeful disruption. Burger King’s visually provocative “Moldy Whopper” campaign, created by INGO and DAVID Miami in partnership with Publicis Bucharest, effectively demonstrated the steps the company had taken to remove preservatives from its menu and give consumers healthier food. But instead of just running a spot with beautiful Whoppers flying across the screen and a straight VO telling you what they had done, they went the opposite direction. They made the mold that grew on the Whopper, over a month, the beautiful thing. Sales rose, awards flowed, and purpose was taken to a new pinnacle. The pinnacle we all need to continue to chase in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace – blistering hot, impactful as hell, smack-you-in-the-kisser creativity.
I am personally proud of the VMLY&R Starbucks campaign in Brazil aimed at the trans community - many of whom were unable to change official documents to reflect their new names and gender identities. Supporting the community was a disruptive stance from Starbucks to begin with. But transforming a local Starbucks into a free registry office, enabling customers to leave the store with official documents in their new names was the executional element that made it go viral. At Starbucks, anyone who orders a drink at the counter has their name respected and written on their cup without question, and this experiential campaign used that principle to guide real action and advocacy around this issue, beyond just raising awareness.
And just this past month, SC Johnson and Ogilvy delivered a challenge to the world via an immersive experience called The Blue Paradox. Fisk Johnson is passionate about ridding the oceans of plastic - putting resources and money behind it. What he is also clearly putting behind his mission is bravery. And that’s why this perfectly crafted, entertaining and powerful idea is being written about in the press and spread lovingly on social.
The view that purpose needs to be promoted in more disruptive ways is potentially challenging because it comes with risk. But there are many brave marketers who work with WPP agencies that are already embracing purposeful disruption – as well as great agencies and brands outside of our company. And I will fall on the proverbial sword in saying that purpose without disruption is a losing proposition. The competition is too fierce.
Selling a purpose inside your own company can be hard, so when you get a gem of an idea through, why not push your agencies to make it radiate in the world? They will thank you for it later, when it changes the world.
Thank you for listening. I’m available to talk about this anytime, anywhere, any place.
06 October 2021