“Purpose,” the new ad game mantra, is for Posers.

It’s Your Brand Community that Matters

One of the things I love and hate about the advertising and branding industry is its insatiable desire to reinvent the zeitgeist, whether it needs it or not.

Decades back, big agencies fought for clients by claiming that one had a magic potion packaged as brand character, while another espoused the power of brand personality. Creative, no?

More recently, the agency world was all a-twitter (literally and figuratively) about being everywhere all at once. It was called integrated marketing and it was great for billings but wasted scads of dough because ad folks and their clients quickly discovered their customers weren’t everywhere, all the time. In fact, most of them weren’t even paying much attention, regardless of where they were.

Then the webternet arrived, followed by our current search engine overlords, and digital advertising was all things to ad people. Go digital NOW! Fast!! Faster!!! Don’t think about … just buy every damn platform! Be hip! Ain’t it fun?

No, it was not fun.

Once again the bullshit mavens fell short on that because media doesn’t mean shit if you haven’t got messaging that matters. And most advertisers don’t have messaging that matters.

But the internet also armed people with profound access to information — good and bad. The result of which is that customers got more curious, more militant, less interested … and about as focused as a gnat.

Ciggies N Oil

Today, the ad gurus are verging on diving deep into the carpet fibers of existentialism when it comes to creating the newest call to arms for us to embrace.

And here it is: Purpose .

Wow, that does sound impressive, doesn’t it? Simple, evocative, memorable and about as meaningful as a BOGO (buy one, get one).

Just imagine the heads spin in the C suites as folks grapple with having a purpose beyond, say,  just making money, or destroying the competition or gouging their customers in the grocery aisle and then buying them off with $25 gift coupons. Ouch! Purpose leaves a mark. I’d love to be in the board room where the client and its agency are talking about the purpose of cigarettes:

“Ralph what do you think the purpose of our brand is?”

“Well, J B … uh, heh-heh … seems to me we’re clearly in the business of killing people as a means to increase shareholder value … and we’d better get after it. I mean, the faster we kill ’em the fewer there’ll be left to buy the ciggies, so I guess our purpose is to kill ’em …  just faster. That’s merciful isn’t it?”

“Ralph, you’re a genius! So, can you ad cats get your heads around that for some new creative, influencer marketing or product placement magic? Maybe get smokes into a Star Wars movie … or into one of those cute Pixar features. Geez, my kids really love those!”

Sooner or later someone with an IQ above that of a carrot is going to stand up and say: “WHOA! Everybody shut the fuck up. The last thing we want anyone to know is what our purpose is. I say we stick with BOGOs.”

Just Keep It Real Bud

Purpose, when it comes to your brand, is something that is driven out of your core values. You can’t reverse engineer your purpose and pop a boiler plate of bullshit on something that has no intrinsic value. Or at least, you shouldn’t.

Sadly, we still do plenty of this by supporting toxic products, loading up on worthless junk and consuming life-endangering crap, while endangering lots of good things. Such is the power of branding.

Sooner than later, however, our addiction to garbage will either overwhelm us or we’ll wise up and demand more from the brands we’re loyal to. And abandon those that make no effort to enhance life on this lonesome plant of ours.

What more consumers want is a sense of authenticity … a sense of worth about products and services that makes them feel connected to the brand community and not just addicted to.

The smoke and mirrors of the ad game will eventually scatter and shatter, either by choice or by crisis, and consumers will expect better promises from better brands – ones focused less on some shifting purpose and more on the community their brand serves – meaning, the brand community.

Inclusive, Brand Community thinking is the only way we, as humans, have ever progressed. And brands and branding have been at the forefront of that progression. Making and marketing products with real value, that don’t do damage to a world already in terrible shape, is the direction we must take.

You want a purpose for your brand community? Figure out you’re going to get moving in that direction. Or get out of the way


Wayne S. Roberts

The Globe and Mail calls Wayne S. Roberts "an ad industry provocateur." Maybe its because he's never seen the point of playing by the ad game rules that place awards above results, while offering spec work instead of real value to win accounts. Throughout his career, Wayne has maintained a defiantly independent streak characterized by his insistence that agencies must be honest, direct and passionately invested in their clients' success. His pioneering work in espousing the brand community perspective has been a touchstone of his belief that branding is more than just logos, websites and ad campaigns; it is the fundamental way human beings connect with each other to create communities and launch movements that have changed our world.

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