We need to hang on to “brand purpose”

Not all buzzy marketing trends last (nor should they), but brand purpose is one the industry should embrace.

It feels good to see 2020 in the rearview mirror. 

But the new year is somewhat arbitrary in our current circumstances, as we enter 2021 with more optimism but many of the same problems as 2020.

The pandemic is at the worst point yet, as U.S. deaths surge past 350,000 — and that’s before the holiday season toll has fully materialized. The glimmer of hope provided by the vaccine is already starting to look fuzzy, as the country, by many accounts, botches distribution.

We’re in the midst of the most tumultuous transition of power in our country’s history, as the outgoing president continues to pull every lever he can to overturn certified election results. In the process, he’s withholding crucial information that can help the incoming administration end this pandemic.

And, despite a renewed vigor for justice, we’re all still grappling with centuries of racial inequality that have scarred and divided us.

Over the past year, as everything around us crumbled, we saw an unlikely savior step in to fill the void: corporations. Amazon became a lifeline. Manufacturers started producing PPE. All of our hope for a better future still lies in the hands of pharmaceutical giants.

As brands assumed this new role, “brand purpose” became a rallying cry across adland and corporate America. Companies doubled down on their commitments to diversity and inclusion and jumped in to directly help with pandemic relief.

We can’t rely on brands to solve all our problems. Let’s face it, a brand’s “purpose” is really to drive revenue and growth for the company.

But I do hope brands hang on to this newfound responsibility and continue to play a weightier role in society.

Brands drive conversation. They shape culture. They reflect our beliefs and our power structures. So when brands do things like discard racist logos, or put people of color into positions of power and influence, they’re both creating and reflecting an image of a fairer, more considerate world.

Agencies can sustain this trend by committing to these values themselves, from the inside out. Elevate diverse voices to inform the work. Show your clients facts and figures that prove doing good drives business. Brands won’t change decades-old habits without the numbers to back it up.

As the conversation about diversity, equity, inclusion and purpose sweeps the media and technology industries, publishers, platforms and networks can leverage their own efforts around DE&I to attract advertisers looking to spend with like-minded companies.

As we move into 2021 and away from this awful pandemic, no shortage of fresh new challenges await us on the other side. There’s no vaccine for the economic and social gaps created by COVID-19. The climate emergency is only becoming more urgent. We’re barely at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fixing social injustices.

2021 may be here, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. I hope brands can continue to find their purpose and inspire us to do better.

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