Do all the brands need to jump into the bandwagon of Cause driven Marketing?

Purpose-driven marketing has become the holy grail for modern marketing. Marketers are constantly in search of that magic Formula which can be injected into the Brand to boost its bottom-line. Around festivals and ‘special’ days like Mother’s Day, Women’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. brands get maniacal about looking for causes to use in their ads. We’ve reached a stage where there are too many brands and too few causes. Perhaps that’s why, Success of Jago re and share the load, the poster boys of Cause based marketing in recent times, has been followed by a barrage of purpose-led messaging, which makes us wonder whether every brand really ought to take up a cause. 

This rush to acquire a cause has made us forget the age old and the most significant principle of Marketing, the Unique selling proposition that gave brands the sustainable edge. 

Whilst brand managers and advertisers have been infatuated with the sex appeal of Cause, the consumers are still loyal to self interest.  For them,  the positive difference that brands can make to their life is still more important than what brands stand for. 

As per the 2019 Edelman trust Barometer Report: “In Brands We trust?’ the top 5 consumer reasons to buy into a particular brand were:

Quality (85%) Convenience (84%) Ingredients (82%) Brand Trust (81%). There are many other reports that point towards 

This is a clear proof point that when it comes to buying a particular brand, consumers are more driven by tangible, individualistic benefits over intangible, collectivistic ‘do good’ societal benefits. So, while a brand purpose may create more brand conversations, brand conversions are hard to come by without the actual brand benefits. 

I don’t know of anyone who gives a pass to a 20 percent discount at Amazon because the packaging wastes too much cardboard. Neither have I known anyone to have boycotted fashion chains like Zara and H&M because of their excessive carbon footprint or the pathetic labor policies of their vendors.

Today, Amazon owes it most-valuable-company-of-the world-tag-to not any cause driven marketing strategy but to the access and convenience it offers to Millions of people across the world. 
Closer to home, Indigo Airlines has been a huge success against the headwinds of an extremely tough civil aviation Industry just by getting its product and pricing right. And by making flying accessible for the Masses.

Also, overuse of Purpose can also be reflection of lazy marketing, in absence of actual differentiation or even an insight. 

Brands should rather focus on reinventing themselves in the ever changing world to say relevant. If they keep their ears to the ground and understand the ever-evolving needs of their consumer, both emotionally and physically, they might not need the clutches of a proverbial higher cause.

Royal Enfield scripted a success story by reinventing the brand by becoming, more meaningful to the Young Indian consumer and realities of the new India looking for a Bold, masculine Ride. 

Cadbury’s Choclate is another example of how a brand can stay relevant by reinventing itself , keeping with the larger cultural context. 

Kuchh meetha ho jaye is a powerful testimony to how a strong insight into the Consumers life, based on a cultural zeitgeist can still do wonders for the brand. 

It’s not that Purpose based marketing doesn’t work. Some of the following examples make a compelling case for brands taking a stand.

  • IKEA- Thisables
  • Go back to Africa

Gillette- Barbershop Girls

But the problem starts when a brand goes out of its way to retrofit a purpose into its advertising; without much thought given to the Role of the brand. It’s like putting Cart before the Horse.

UrbanClap, for example, is a mobile marketplace for local services. It rolled out a series of cause-led campaigns, around serious issues like gay rights and domestic violence. It’s an app that helps one call a plumber or hire a wedding planner and offers services that have nothing to do with the issues it takes up in its advertising. 

More importantly, there is a specific time in the brand life cycle for doing Purpose based communication. Especially for new brands,  it’s better to get to the point. Give consumer the tangible reasons to buy. Once they have bought into your product,  they have become fanboys, then give them the ‘reason to believe in the brand (introduce the bigger brand purpose that gives more meaning). 

So while brand promise/benefit brings in new consumers into the brand fold, a higher order brand purpose keeps the brand loyalists hooked for long. (gives them a higher order ‘feel good’ reason to stick to the brand amidst stiff competition).

Even the best of today’s Purpose driven brands actually started off with pure functional brand benefits early in their product life-cycle- while Coca Cola started off as  the most refreshing thirst quencher (the iconic Coke Glass topped with ice cubes),Dove stood for a quarter of a moisturizer (as opposed to harsh chemicals). 

To conclude, brands should know that Purpose is a means to an end and not the end in itself. It can be a part of the larger strategy but not the Strategy in itself. 

Secondly, there are other ways to appeal to the heart of the consumer than just latching on to a cause. And none better than a powerful story that is rooted in the truth of their lives. 

And Most importantly, Purpose can’t be limited to just PPTs and Advertising, brands have to walk the talk.