A little over a month ago, The 64th Annual Cannes Lions Festival was in full force. The Mediterranean Sea sparkled next to the festival grounds as storytellers, designers, artists, political figures, celebrities, and CEOs rushed to and from the Palais, trying to make it to the next big presentation. I was part of that very fortunate crowd that was feeling inspired by the creative spirit in the air.
The Cannes Festival is truly a one-of-a-kind event that brings people from all corners of the earth to South France to celebrate the best work to come out of the advertising and creative communications industries, and other related fields. It’s also a platform for some of the world’s biggest game changers to talk about issues facing the industry, explore new ideas, share success stories, and learn from failures.
For me, one of the most talked about and fascinating topics covered throughout the festival was brand purpose. What is it? Does it matter? How can we use it to develop better work? Brand purpose is the reason a brand exists. It’s something consumers can align their own values with. Brand purpose is what your brand stands for; what makes it stand out amongst competitors. For example, Coke’s brand purpose is to share happiness. They’ve focused on that in all their worldwide marketing efforts. Conversely, what is Pepsi’s brand purpose? To promote peaceful protest? #adfail (Sorry, too soon?) Brands with a well-defined brand purpose are able to communicate much more than just their functional benefits.
Civil rights activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson, put it this way: “People are buying brands that take a stance on an important issue.” In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek makes a similar claim: “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” Time and time again we’ve seen the brands with purpose come out on top: TOMS over Vans, Starbucks over Dunkin Donuts, Dove over Olay.
So how does it work? Well, it takes trial and error. But when you do get it right, your work has clear meaning, you create work that matters, and your work is able to emotionally move people. David Lubars, Chief Creative Officer at BBDO, cautioned that “It’s important to make your advertising focus on a single issue or topic. Don’t try to hit too many points at once, or you just might miss the target completely.”
Of all the presentations at the festival that touched on brand purpose, my favorite was the one that really broke it down, Does Brand Purpose Really Drive Creative Work? It was hosted by Diageo and featured their CMO, Syl Saller, and their Global Head of Beer, Mark Sandys. Diageo has over 200 big name brands, including Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, Baileys, and Guinness. They used the example of Smirnoff’s brand purpose. Smirnoff is a brand that features colorless, odorless, and overall unexciting alcohol in its general functional use. Any alcoholic brand could automatically be written off as bad, just because it’s alcohol. However, Smirnoff decided to change the story. They use the power of good times to move all of us to be more inclusive through stories of real people (like Chris Fonseca, a deaf dance teacher) that promote their brand purpose. In the end, it doesn’t matter if other brands also focus on inclusivity, it’s strong enough if it’s true to the brand.
The Diageo hosts also shared the original failure story of Captain Morgan to get across that it’s not going to be a win every time you assign a purpose to a brand. Captain Morgan lost sales when craft drinks came into play. The original solution they came up with was to make Captain Morgan more real. The result was this confusing ad. They soon realized that they had it all wrong since the strategic credibility wasn’t there. Instead they discovered the best solution was to change the story to make the power of fun champion. Captain Morgan has always been about fun, so they’re getting back to their roots. Now, they make ads like this, to align with their brand purpose and make the brand image stronger.
Mark Sandys said that the next time you “unleash creativity” for a brand with purpose there are seven C’s you need to keep in mind: Clarity and credibility, collaboration, courage, consistency, commitment, and content. What leads to success in the long run is asking the important questions in these seven categories, such as Who is the right partner for the content you’re making? and most importantly, Are you willing to stick with a purpose, so that it truly becomes what the brand stands for?
Now think about your favorite brands. Are they your favorite because they represent something you stand for? Do they work towards a cause you believe in?