The topic of brand purpose can be tricky. A recent study showed that 71% of young people prefer brands that drive positive change. But despite that, we’re very quick to rally against brands we suspect of leveraging purpose as an advertising method alone – even when the end result may still positively impact a chosen cause.
As such, brands and agencies tend to shy away from “purpose”, feeling it safer to stick to their remit of simply making ads. But occasionally, a brand has a real chance to own a space and do more than just advertise. And it’s in this space of relevant purpose where brands lucky enough to have an opportunity to play, perhaps have a responsibility to play.
Two Ads I Like
Lacoste – Save our Species
With many crocodile species at risk of extinction, Lacoste temporarily removed its iconic logo to bring attention to dwindling numbers of other highly-endangered species. Creating 10 different ‘Save our Species’ animal logos in the same style as its green embroidered crocodile, Lacoste released a limited-edition polo collection, with the number of polos available corresponding to the remaining population sizes of each species.
The rarity of the polo shirts made them instantly desirable, with all 1775 selling out in under 24 hours and proceeds going to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The limited-edition nature of the shirts also framed the critically low numbers of endangered species in a uniquely relatable way – confirmed by the spike in IUCN donations made by consumers who missed out on a polo, but still bought in to a cause.
The brand impact? Lacoste made no profit from the sale of the shirts. But with hundreds of thousands of shares and millions of dollars in earned media, it’s clear the value of this investment extends far beyond a few polos.
Nike – Dream Crazier
Nike has had a lot of attention for its famously rousing ads. As marketers, they’re the ads we wish we made. As consumers, they hit a nerve in a way most brands never do. But as sceptics, is Nike just another huge company with budgets to match, pretending they’re saving the world in order to flog products?
Not entirely. It’s easy to feel unwilling to shower big brands with praise, especially when it comes to matters of ethics. And I’m not going to pretend behemoths like Nike are here to spread good vibes only – they’re here to do business, just like the rest of us. But rather than rest on the laurels of its already-iconic status, Nike is choosing to use its position as an aspirational brand to spread inspirational messages. Ones that make people want to do much more than buy sportswear.
This is a brand that’s using advertising to inspire people who may doubt themselves to get out, get active and believe they can achieve more. Yes, ideally while wearing Nike (but also very doable in your Kmart leggings). And if people from all walks of life can feel empowered, not alienated, by the same brand that clothes the world’s richest athletes? That feels like a pretty good use of budget to me.
One I Don’t Like
John West – It’s a No from John West
Much like Pantone’s 2019 Colour of the Year miss, where the company refused to use its position of influence to draw attention to the Living Coral-coloured elephant in the room, John West continues to stay firmly in its lane.
“It’s what John West rejects that makes John West the best” is a long-standing brand proposition, and in 2018 it was brought back to life in this resurrection of John West’s traditional ad format. But in an effort to remind Australians of the sentiment behind its famous line, has the brand missed a chance to resonate with modern audiences – and spread a positive message in the process?
After all, claiming to be “the best” is a big call – one that almost certainly demands justification beyond dumping ugly fish back into the ocean. With its WWF Partnership, John West has an opportunity to reframe what being “the best” really means – using the brand’s position to drive sustainable practices, encourage environmental consideration or even fight against food waste. But so far, it’s chosen not to.
On the surface, it seems fair for a company that sells tuna to just focus on selling tuna. But when a brand has a rare chance to deliver a truly relevant and purposeful message – one that can also benefit them in the process – does it have an ethical obligation to try harder?
The answer to that, it seems, is still a no from John West.