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Get set for Third Wave Purpose

12 Feb 2020  |  Jo Arden 


Forget the cynics, compassion and commerce can go hand in hand, argues MullenLowe's Jo Arden as she looks at what it really means to deliver social purpose

It’s a great time to be in this business if you believe that brands have a societal as well as commercial role to play. The conversation last year (and for just about as long as brands have been playing in this space) was about whether worthy was getting old. Spoiler alert, I don’t believe it has or ever will.

I think brands will increasingly tap into what they can give rather just what they can take. But 2020 suggests that marketers are exploring new ways to communicate what their brand has to offer in the context of people’s lives.

As a reminder of how far we’ve come, purpose-led marketing used to be an add-on. It was about charity partnerships, occasionally about joining in with a societal issue which the owner felt passionate about (and everyone else, therefore, had to).

Marks and Spencer’s were one of the early ones to break away from the pack, putting Plan A at the heart of their brand comms. The Co-operative Bank were pioneers, campaigning at the cutting edge right from 1993 proving that you can create value, by sharing your values.

The past 10 years has seen the purpose niche go mainstream and there have been clear winners and losers along the way. More recently, homogeneity in how we communicate purpose has crept in (in some part as people play the creative awards game).

2019 was serious, sincere, and rightly so, it was one of the most challenging for our whole country. But the new decade seems to have brought with it a sense of optimism, where brand marketing is concerned at least. It’s only January and already there are some terrific examples of brands telling us ‘together, we’ve got this’ and that feels like a brilliant new start.

Adidas ‘Reimagine Sport’ by Iris is an all-out celebration of sport in all its guises and women in all their shapes and sizes. The product looks great, it’s motivating and inspiring and weirdly accessible (brilliant casting which strikes a balance between accessible and aspirational).

In a similar vein, This Girl Can (FCB Inferno) has maintained lots of what makes that campaign exceptional and also owned its success by introducing new taboo-busting set-ups. The out-take is definitely ‘fuck yeah, we can do ANYTHING!’ – and yes we can.

Our own work for Bupa (above) puts that which often remains secret, centre-stage. We’re outing this idea of normal; the pressure we feel to conform to a nonsense ideal. It’s candid and provocative and innately human.

There are many things that bind these three pieces together in my view. Deep understanding of real people; conceptual thinking with intense integrity; storytelling in which viewers can see their own experience; and a total obsession with craft. These are beautiful, celebratory, solution-focused campaigns that are clear about what they have to give.

If this is the new third wave purpose; I’m well up for the ride.


Jo Arden is CSO at MullenLowe Group UK

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22 May 2020 

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