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3 Ways To Make Sure Purpose-Driven Marketing Campaigns Are Authentic And Effective

April 20, 2020 Sarah Cavill

As brands recalibrate during the coronavirus pandemic, adapting to new expectations from consumers and the “new normal,” one thing seems to be clear: purpose-driven marketing campaigns are favored by many consumers and may be more likely to find success after this crisis is over. How to effectively launch purpose-driven campaigns, while still being true to brand identity and reaching revenue and sales goals, will be the question moving forward, as more brands either amplify their purpose-driven brand missions or lean into them because of the current global mood. 

“People are demanding that brands not just deliver better self, but a better society as well,” said Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer for Branding and Marketing at Kantar Consulting. “The political and public health context of the moment is going to clear the way for this to emerge even more quickly.”

What Makes An Effective Purpose-Driven Campaign?

Shutterstock_1170951868 Close up customer hand choose smiley face and blurred sad face icon on wood cube, Service rating, satisfaction concept.

A new study by Kantar Consulting and the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) looked at 45 purpose-driven campaigns to determine which principles should be applied to optimize and deploy successful purpose-driven campaigns. The study’s criteria for which campaigns to evaluate included two baseline benchmarks: campaigns that had generated high volumes of consumer engagement (good and bad) and campaigns that were deemed “purpose campaigns” either by consumers or industry insiders. 

The study found that the brands that successfully executed purpose-driven campaigns did three things effectively:

  1. The campaigns were authentic to the brand and made sense. For example, Bumble partnering with Serena Williams for a female empowerment campaign matches the messaging of both stakeholders and is easily embraced by the public. ARF calls this the “duh factor.” The purpose is clear and the messaging makes sense.
  2. The campaigns were centered around people inherent to the messaging of the purpose-driven campaigns. Partnering with industry experts or with outsiders that cared or were invested in the purpose-driven mission lent credibility to the campaigns. “Ideas and issues don’t just come from what people at Patagonia think would make for good campaigns. We often rely on the nonprofits that we support, and we draw from their expertise to create content. Grassroots activism is central to Patagonia’s advocacy campaigns,” said Corley Kenna, Senior Director of Global Communications at Patagonia. A recent example of using this strategy effectively is the Dove campaign that features actual frontline medical workers from the fight against COVID-19.
  3. The campaigns that launched effective purpose-driven campaigns were trying to solve problems and drive social change. ARF found that successful campaigns proposed tangible solutions that delivered quickly, generating conversations and messages of empathy. Sometimes, effective purpose-driven marketing requires taking a serious tone with a controversial message, like Nike’s spots with Colin Kaepernick, or purpose-driven marketing can be more playfully achieved, like LEGO’s Rebuild the World campaign. Either way, brands need to be committed and prepared for consumer reactions across the spectrum.

Brands That Are Amplifying Their Purpose-Driven Missions During Coronavirus

The Kantar report also indicates, “brands with a history of working for a cause have a right to play when activating a purpose-driven campaign that connects to it.” Maryam Banikarim, the Head of Marketing for NextDoor, made a similar point in a recent livestream with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), indicating that NextDoor was very easily able to switch to helper mode because its mission had always been about connecting people and operating as a purpose-driven brand. Since quarantines around the U.S. began in mid-March, NextDoor has seen an 80% uptick in usage. Other brands are also seeing responsiveness to purpose-driven campaigns during coronavirus, based on recent data from Ace Metrix, a tech company that measures the effectiveness of video advertising. 

“While Super Bowl 54 ads were the most impactful in years, that's a lifetime ago now that we have a new normal,” said Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix. “COVID-19 occupies consumers' minds 24/7, and they've shown they're open to and even expect brands to communicate what they're doing during the pandemic.” Among the top purpose-driven campaigns were Verizon’s Pay it Forward ad, Honda’s Working Together ad and Anheuser-Busch’s One Team campaign, all of the spots focus on helping small businesses, creating unity or honoring healthcare workers, which are messages that resonate with consumers right now. 

“Emotion and sustainability are the creative strategy of choice for purpose. Other analyses have shown that building on cultural moments is especially effective at raising emotion,” noted the ARF report. Brands, consumers, businesses and culture are at an unexpected, critical moment right now. Agile, authentic and responsive campaigns that effectively embrace existing brand identities, capture the energy and empathy of consumers and build on what will be necessary tomorrow are going to be needed for brands to rise to the challenges of today.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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