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After the floods of ads that have come under criticism for being tasteless and controversial recently, there’s been much speculation around whether brand purpose is dead.

My response to this is no. Brand purpose is not dead. But cheap, lazy storytelling is.

All brands should have a purpose. It’s the ‘why’ behind your existence and along with your values it defines the soul of your organisation. Problems only arise when brand purpose begins to wander from the path of what the product actually does or means to people. (And we only have to look at Pepsi, Dove or McDonalds to see how damaging this can be).

So, unless it’s central to your brand’s existence, trying to hijack social issues is blatant and tacky, and it won’t go unnoticed. In the past you might have got away with an eye-roll or a disapproving ‘tut’. But in a world crying out for trust, people will hang you out to dry until you’re forced destroy all evidence of the offending advert and lie low until the angry twitter mob has dispersed.

But this isn’t a new phenomenon, before everyone was jumping on the social purpose bandwagon, brands were clamouring to appropriate counterculture in the quest for ‘cool’. From Coca-Cola’s Hilltop campaign, to Adidas’ graffiti gaffe which saw them paint an ad over a well-known street art wall in Warsaw.

However, neither quite compare to the day I learnt that the Sex Pistol’s would feature on a range of Virgin credit cards. I remember it well because it was also the same day I packed in my dreams of becoming a free-spirited bohemian, as I’d realised that modern consumerism had won, and punk was officially dead.

I couldn’t believe that a band that had railed against the establishment would now be oiling the wheels of the capitalist machine. (That said there was still a small part of me that felt tempted by the prospect of flashing a card emblazoned with the word ‘bollocks’ the next time I had to pay for an overdue library book).

But more to the point, I was surprised that Virgin didn’t realise that they were entering serious eye-rolling territory with this rather unconvincing ‘rebel-sell’ partnership. (Nothing says anarchy in the U.K like a representative interest rate of 18.9% APR.)

I appreciate that it’s becoming more and more difficult to cut through the noise and engage through advertising. And sometimes purpose is the only thing that will get brands to stand out. But it shouldn’t be treated as a trend, it needs to be an imperative. It should be the at the very core of everything you do and should be reflected through every touchpoint, not just when it suits.

So, to go back to my earlier point, I don’t think purpose-led marketing is dead. But what is hopefully dying is pseudo-compassionate storytelling with no real meaning. Finding a purpose means finding the space that your brand occupies in the lives of your consumers and understanding what USP’s set you apart from your competitors. Only then can you start focusing on a purpose-led comms strategy.

-Anna Melton, Marketing Manager