Consumers are growing wary of ‘purpose-washing’

Nicolas Chidiac, brand and CX strategy lead, Razorfish
Nicolas Chidiac, brand and CX strategy lead, Razorfish

A survey by Razorfish and Vice Media shows that while consumers care about brand purpose, many believe brands do not deliver on commitments.

Marketing has exhausted “purpose” as a buzzword as consumers show a direct interest in spending with purposeful brands. 

But savvy consumers are growing wary of whether brands are able to or interested in delivering on their commitments, according to a study from Razorfish and Vice Media Group. 

The report, which surveyed 1,000 people across age, financial status, geopolitical and racial demographics in the U.S., shows that while all groups say brand purpose is important, cynicism is growing. 

Sixty two percent of consumers across demographics consider a brand’s values when making purchasing decisions, and 75% say their friends buy from brands that are purposeful. 

Yet, only 43% of consumers truly believe brands are living their stated purpose. 

By comparison, marketers are eating their own dog food; 83% believe the brands they represent are living their stated purpose. 

The results highlight a disconnect between brands and consumers, as well as growing consumer awareness of purpose-washing. Purpose-washing can be obvious when brands inform their purposes based on what’s trending, said Nicolas Chidiac, brand and CX strategy lead at Razorfish. 

“Purpose is developed by saying, ‘Let’s envision what this purpose would look like through a manifesto, and let's test it with some consumers and see what they think about it. [But] purpose needs to be more rigorous,” he said, adding that purpose must start from the inside of a company and its values. 

According to the study, only 19% of marketers claim they are using their purpose to inform how they design experiences; 27% use purpose to inform how they design products. 

Yet, consumer trends show that brands perceived to be truly purposeful are profitable. 

For instance, a controlled experiment in the study found that consumers were inclined to pay higher prices for a tequila brand that provided proceeds to bars and restaurants. 

Financial support for a brand or its stated purpose is even likelier if the impact is closer in proximity to where a consumer lives and shops. 

“I would [rather] a brand be authentic around the benefit than inauthentic around a purpose,” Chidiac said. 

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