Burger King’s head of brand marketing said in an interview that creativity allows the brand to ‘speak louder than size’. Their strategy is to harness the power of creativity to gain standout and thus reduce the need to keep up with the big spenders in the market. His interview with Marketing Week was focused on how being brave through creative advertising gave Burger King an edge over its competition, despite a smaller marketing budget. However, what struck me most in this article was the connection between ‘creativity’ and affiliation with ‘causes’. Standing for something.
Burger King is recently known for its support of the LGBTQ community. They did this with the launch of the ‘Proud Whopper’ in 2014, and a lot of marketing buzz around it. It won awards, critical acclaim, and gave Burger King a sense of purpose and a bravery that you might not expect from the world of family friendly fast food multinationals. One could easily be cynical about this marketing campaign. After all, is Burger King a known champion of LGBTQ, or even human rights? In fact, it was genius and quite moving. Being a mass market chain, it was bound to get news coverage, and negative reactions from some of its consumer base. It created branded content that centred on the revelation that their ‘Proud Whopper’ was exactly the same as their regular Whopper. It brought people to tears (conveniently on camera) because it delivered a timely message – there is no difference between communities. To assume there is a difference makes one question whether they are discriminative – without even knowing it. It not only elicits emotions and empowers a community, but it makes people stop and question. They generated $21m earned media with a fraction of the budget their key competitor spends on price-led promotional TV and OOH advertising. It’s an incredible victory for Burger King to pull this off.
The ‘Proud Whopper’ campaign inspired me to explore the value of brands that have a purpose.
Max Lenderman said that ‘purpose has become the new digital’. While his sentiment was spot on… this statement isn’t. Has ‘purpose’ become the new marketing buzzword? It’s certainly being thrown around every brainstorm in ad land. But No. ‘Brand purpose’ has existed since the birth of ‘brands’ themselves. Back then, they weren’t over intellectualised marketing strategies – they were simply people who had a business that believed in their mission and in delivering the best to their consumer base. The successful ones were those that tapped into a set of values that their consumers bought into.
‘Family’ brands with heritage is a powerful and lucrative brand value. Johnson & Johnson proudly proclaim it’s a family company. Why? It was founded by a family and its products are largely for families. Seems very simple. However, it has to be militant in defending this position in its behaviour. Is it really a family company? 80% are passive investors, the rest are pension funds, banks, insurance companies and the government. In fact, there are 3,334 institutional owners of J&J. So no, it’s no longer a family company. Does it act like a family company? The revelation that J&J’s baby talcum powder could have links to ovarian cancer was damaging, made worse when it was claimed J&J knew of the association between talc and ovarian cancer decades before.
Virgin brands all band together under one singular mission by Richard Branson – to challenge the existing ‘monopoly’ in a sector, and to do it with style. David Hieatt suggests that a brand with purpose must define its enemy to fuel its passion. Richard Branson had an enemy in every sector. For Virgin Atlantic, that enemy was British Airways. For Virgin Media, it was BT. That sense of purpose carries through into every brand and company with the Virgin name. Virgin is now 47 years old, and at risk of losing this brand purpose. It’s no longer the new ‘challenger brand’. In many sectors, it’s the behemoth – such as fitness, communications and travel. It’s imperative now more than ever to continue to innovate and challenge.
Brands that jump on a cause – a fast track to ‘purpose’?
Burger King wasn’t the first to support the LGBTQ cause, and many more have emerged since. Oreos, Starbucks, and Skittles are all very vocal in their celebration of Pride. It’s always a positive when a brand provides tangible support to causes; whether it’s the cocoa trade, the environment, the water crisis or human rights. Brands that supported the ‘stop funding hate’ campaign by not advertising in certain newspapers were hailed by many and scorned by few. This is different to brands taking a polarising political stance. Is it a brand’s role to enter the socio-political arena? Arguably, yes. Big brands are large parts of our economy and our society. They have power; therefore, they have a voice. How they use that voice is up to them. Many brands have been involved and praised, but some have been weak and opportunistic.
According to David Hieatt, purpose-driven companies are built on passion. He refers to ‘hot passion’ – an infatuation that speaks to your heart but fades, and ‘cold passion’ – a life-long love with strong foundations. His argument is that cold passion is far more effective. Why? It’s not erratic and it engages the heart and the mind. This kind of passion fuels a more considered purpose for your brand. For instance, if you’re a clothes brand that has celebrated diversity from inception – both in its products and services and in how it behaves as a company – you can support a large number of causes out there under that single umbrella: diversity.
Philips (a former client) is an interesting example of how a brand has consistently positioned itself around another purpose – ‘care’, despite changing its business in response to the wider market. It hasn’t been an easy time for the company, being squeezed from both sides – by the cheaper tech brands to the ever-growing tech giants. As a result, they’ve sold large parts of their business and consolidated their brand offering. Although a tech brand, Philips focuses on its impact on people’s lives, and it is backed up. The work they do in healthcare and lighting is centred on improving lives. From mobile health devices in Africa to calming lighting solutions for maternity wards and child-friendly MRI machines. It may have changed its strapline to ‘Innovation + You’, but the purpose remains constant: they create meaningful innovations that improve people’s lives. It’s working – they’ve connected people to this core purpose and since they launched ‘Innovation + You’ in 2014 through a content and partnership led strategy, they have seen growth in brand preference, value, and sales.
When and why can this strategy go wrong?
When they are disingenuous. When they aren’t supported by the company’s actions. When they aren’t in touch with their consumers, or the social climate they operate in. Brands seeking purpose this way will fail… and fail hard.
Pepsi’s recent campaign featuring Kendall Jenner co-opted a sensitive and politically charged issue, and to many, they seemed to trivialise it. It cost Pepsi millions – both in actual spend and brand equity. Stay true to what your business can legitimately believe in. And make sure that it resonates with your prospective consumer base. Execute it well. Most importantly, truly believe in your purpose.