Google global marketing VP: it's time to ditch the 'purpose parade'

Speaking to core values and taking real action will help brands avoid 'purpose fatigue'.

Chow: spoke at Campaign Connect
Chow: spoke at Campaign Connect

Brands are increasingly being expected to show their brand purpose by making a stand on big issues so consumers can trust them, but it has recently become “cringey” as they join in the “purpose parade”.

That was the warning from Marvin Chow, vice-president of global marketing at Google, when he spoke at last week's Campaign Connect.

Part of the problem, Chow said, was that so many issues came together in 2020, not least the rising influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Covid pandemic. He summed up the past 18 months as “a wash of virtual signalling and bandwagoning, with brands saying they’re showing empathy and solidarity around Covid, but not stepping up to help solve the problem and move things forward”.

Chow said he had sympathy, though, for brands that are playing “landmine hopscotch” and “walking a tightrope” as they feel they need to be seen to say the right things while driving their businesses forward.

It is particularly crucial given recent research he quoted suggesting that only around a half of consumers trust companies, and 85% of those in Gen Z think they should stand for more than just making a profit.

Chow outlined three tips to bear in mind as brands try to do the right thing while avoiding purpose washing.

Start with core views, not the news

Brands need to have a core set of values that ideally go back to their inception. For Chow, this means identifying what a brand’s core tenets are, not basing what they say on where the proverbial wind is blowing.

“Consistency of commitment builds towards authentic brand purpose,” he said. “It’s not always about current events.”

Don’t just speak, do

Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk, Chow advised.

“Don’t just speak purpose, do what you can to solve real problems,” he said. “Brands are saying they are defending against being called racist, but they’re not doing the work to actively be anti-racist in their practices.”

He pointed to Google deciding its core value is promoting information for everyone, and so showing its support by helping to educate about racial equity and setting up a service on its Maps app so people could search for and support businesses owned by black entrepreneurs.

More is not more

Too many brands are chasing the news cycle and feeling compelled to come up with statements around every issue in the headlines. This is a mistake, Chow said.

“Sometimes it’s best not to do anything when a big issue comes up,” he argued. Instead, brands should pick the issues that speak to their core values and make a stand then, both in words and in deed.

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