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New Research Questions The Purpose Of Ad Brands' Purpose Marketing.

Advertising with messages focused on a brand's positive contributions to the environment, diversity, or the community may be falling on deaf ears, based on the latest findings of an ongoing consumer study.

Even as such purpose marketing messages have become more prevalent in current campaigns, GfK's Purpose Impact Monitor survey found that more than half of American consumers were unable to identify unaided any brands or companies making a positive difference in these areas. At the same time, the brands most mentioned without prompting were not necessarily those with advertising focused on such issues, but rather major high-awareness brands such as Amazon, Walmart, and Tesla.

“There may be a little bit of dissonance between what a brand says vs. what people understand the brand to be,” GfK North America Managing Director of Marketing Effectiveness Eric Villain tells Ad Age, adding that most brands spend more on advertising their core product and service offerings than on purpose initiatives.

Other research suggests that brand purpose may not be as important to consumers as it once was. A CivicScience study conducted in 2022 found that 18-24-year-olds are less concerned about brand social consciousness in their purchase decisions than those in that age bracket were five years ago, with those feeling a brand’s social consciousness is “very important” in their purchase decisions down from 43% to 30% over that period. The researcher also found declines across all ages in people saying a brand’s social consciousness is very important in purchase decisions, and that half of Gen Z and more than half of the overall U.S. population said brands shouldn’t take stands on political or social issues.

It begs the question, does purpose marketing in brand messaging still work? GfK's Villain suggests that such messages more closely linked to a brand's category or products may have far more impact.

One example tested in GfK's research is Procter & Gamble's Tide, linked with a positive impact by 65% of their sample. In Tide's case, its “Turn to Cold” campaign, which advocates washing in cold water to help the environment, is associated with the benefits of the product. “We found in data we’re looking at that consistency is so important,” former P&G Chief Marketer Jim Stengel says. “Tide has been consistent over time, they’re in washing machines when you buy them, and their message is ‘use cold water.’ They’re in the right place with a relevant message that makes sense for their category.”

Stengel mentions Nike as another brand where purpose marketing works, given its consistent messaging around how people should get moving, thereby related to its products but not directly to environmental or community issues. He adds that another reason purpose marketing often fails is that marketers incorrectly conflate it with cause marketing, regardless of whether the cause is closely related to the brand.

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