Purpose Washing

Updated: Apr 6

How can you create a purpose that appeals to sceptical consumers?



In a marketing landscape of endless brand purposes, consumers have grown tired of tack-on social causes and shallow promises. In a post-lockdown, high inflation world, with consumers consistently watching their spending, only the most genuine and authentic causes rise above the masses of incomplete and unfulfilled commitments. To be able to charge a premium over other products and services, an inauthentic purpose is no longer enough. Brands with a purpose driven structure (where a brand originated from its promise to do good in one way or another), will always surpass a business model that has simply added a purpose to ‘tick a box’ and attempt to satisfy consumer interests. So how can a business utilise purpose, if their business was not founded by any desire to do greater good?


Often, purpose can be used in simple yet effective ways. Rather than a brand attempting to recreate its entire model to appear as a leader in philanthropy and humanitarianism, it can be used in a more versatile way. In a post-lockdown consumer environment, a powerful example was outlined by Razorfish Media in a study into consumer spending on products, where profits were partially donated to local businesses. Their results found that consumers would spend up to 50% more on a product where a portion of these profits were donated to a local small business. With COVID trepidations of the previous two years still resonating in today’s market, consumers are profoundly aware of the importance of these local small companies. As such, a ‘purpose’ focussed on collaborating or supporting other local businesses can be a simple way of adapting a business model and implementing a purpose, without seeming inauthentic. A business that can weave a higher purpose into their day-to-day operations; one that is tailored to their industry and customers with an obvious connection to their products or services, is far more effective than a purpose that follows cultural trends and movements. Jumping on a cultural-ethical bandwagon to promote a business- for the sake of doing so- may do more harm than good.



However, the idea that purpose has completely lost - well… its purpose - is a bit misleading, as consumers are just as interested in what a business is doing for the greater good, as they have ever been. They are, however, more acutely aware of the way businesses use a fabricated purpose to sell them products and services. Companies must walk the fine line between promoting their purpose for the wider community and appearing as if they are disingenuous. Consumers would rather see the benefits of a business than hear the language of a forged purpose.


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