Now the UK’s IPA steps into ‘purpose’ ad controversy

Purpose is everywhere at the moment – to the delight of some and anything but for growing vocal minority – and the UK’s IPA ad agency trade body has entered the debate with a plea for more robust evidence in such campaigns and a handy check list.

The IPA defines purpose as the reason a commercial brand exists beyond maximising profit, such as via positive effects for individuals, societies, or the environment. It should communicate both an organising principle for action in the brand’s present and an aspiration for its future.

Here’s the IPA’s check list:

1/Keep evidence centre-stage by investing in capturing and evaluating the full potential impact of the brand’s purpose activities on all relevant measures, especially on non-financial outcomes.

2/Always ask what part of outcomes were driven by purpose itself and what were due to how purpose was translated into initiatives and creative messaging. What might have happened anyway with effective, non-purpose-related activities and similar levels of investment?

3/Make efforts to prove which, if any, elements of purpose marketing are long-term, defensible positions for the brand and less vulnerable to being imitated.

4/Emphasise new learning and thinking about purpose, as practice in this area evolves fast.

5/Choose whether to talk about it at all. Brands such as Guinness and John Lewis are part of organisations committed to purpose at a corporate level, but this has not played a significant part in advertising effectiveness.

IPA director of marketing strategy Janet Hull says: “Opinions about brand purpose are not in scarce supply. It is our view that the biggest challenge for purpose-oriented marketers today lies in isolating and quantifying the specific impact purpose makes on outcomes from that attributable to other brand activities. Until purpose-oriented marketers account for the contribution of purpose more convincingly, they are unlikely to win over their critics.

“What is needed is detailed evidence about how effectively individual commercial brands have used activities, including advertising and other forms of marketing communications, to create a positive impact related to their stated purpose, as well as a financial benefit.”

Seems sensible enough although common sense and purpose appear somewhat at odds at the moment, at least in the eyes of many influential marketers.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.