When the judges were reviewing Adweek’s Agency of the Year in 2019, they noticed something about McCann’s submitted work: there seemed to be a lot of work on purpose. The agency’s signature campaign for Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller was well known and well known. However, other works for brands like L’Oreal, Mastercard, Ikea and GSK have proven that purpose and trade can live in harmony.
In recent years, purpose has become a lively topic. For the most part, brands seem to understand (or work on) their place in people’s lives. They also know that they have to stand for something because consumers are more likely to look under the hood of companies. To this end, agencies that maintain creativity evaluate their own ways forward.
Sure, there is a long history of agencies doing work for charities, NGOs, and organizations that is admirable (and sometimes award-winning). But we are probably in the brackish waters where unique items shouldn’t be associated with real “purpose,” and both agencies and their clients find out everything in real time, with consumers looking closely.
“The aim is to build a mission and an ethos about how you do business in the world,” said Deb Morrison, University of Oregon’s distinguished professor of advertising with Carolyn Chambers. “Agencies and brands have a sales offer. The tension comes from being altruistic and still playing in that area. That is the question. How do you balance that and do no harm? “
More and more agencies are focusing on the purpose. Some have a purpose built into the foundation while others have evolved and become B Corp certified. This is an official name for companies that have a broader mission to spread positive action around the world. Others continue to find out what it means while keeping a business going. Adweek spoke with executives from five agencies to learn more about what purpose means to agencies and to get a better understanding of where that practice can develop.
Bake appropriately from the start
Oberland and Oliver Russell are two agencies that have served their purpose from the start. The former was founded in New York in 2014, the latter opened a store in 1991 and is considered one of the founding agencies.
Drew Train, one of the co-founders of Oberland (and former head of JWT’s Social Good Practice), sees purpose evolving in the same way it did over a decade ago in the digital arena. In the early days, digital was a practice that was pushed aside. Then as the technology hit the market, myriad digital agencies popped up and the practice got burned in and less curious.
“It was interesting to see the development of the people [on purpose]”Said Train, noting that he believes larger agencies will create, adapt, or evolve purpose-built practices.” When we first said it six years ago we looked questioning. Today it’s very different. I think we are now in the place where people realize that this purpose is a real thing and is recognized throughout the industry. “
Oberland’s other co-founder, Bill Oberlander, who first contacted Train to help New York veterans return from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, noted that there were still some obstacles to overcome. The big problem is brands can no longer sit on the sidelines, even after seeing brands like Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, Toms, and others add this to their success.
“If you asked the average marketer if they would consider adding a purpose to their marketing plan, it was more of a ‘nice to have,” and’ we’ll take care of it as an act of charity, “Oberlander said.” Now, there Black Lives Matter emerges from Covid-19, this is a controversial choice – purpose is at the heart of a marketing plan. You have to have a point of view. “