IPA lists five steps industry can take around brand purpose

Critics need to be won over with evidence, according to new report.

Dove: purpose-driven 'Sketches' ad contributed to an impressive ROI
Dove: purpose-driven 'Sketches' ad contributed to an impressive ROI

There needs to be more robust evidence around the effectiveness of brand purpose, according to a report by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

The report, published today (17 January), identifies five steps practitioners can take to enhance current brand purpose discussions.

The IPA defines purpose as the reason a commercial brand exists beyond maximising profit, such as via positive effects for individuals, societies, or the environment. It should communicate both an organising principle for action in the brand's present and an aspiration for its future, the IPA said.

The IPA outlined the following five steps, which it said may help discussions move forward on the basis of a shared framework of wider and more robust evidence:

  1. Keep evidence centre-stage by investing in capturing and evaluating the full potential impact of the brand's purpose activities on all relevant measures, especially on non-financial outcomes.
  2. Always ask what part of outcomes were driven by purpose itself and what were due to how purpose was translated into initiatives and creative messaging. What might have happened anyway with effective, non-purpose-related activities and similar levels of investment?
  3. Make efforts to prove which, if any, elements of purpose marketing are long-term, defensible positions for the brand and less vulnerable to being imitated.
  4. Emphasise new learning and thinking about purpose, as practice in this area evolves fast.
  5. Choose whether to talk about it at all. Brands such as Guinness and John Lewis are part of organisations committed to purpose at a corporate level, but this has not played a significant part in advertising effectiveness.

The report explains that the IPA considers the effectiveness case study format, such as that used in the IPA Effectiveness Awards, appropriate for capturing and evaluating evidence that can enhance the brand purpose debate.

Analysis of case studies containing purpose-style commitments and/or outcomes that have been entered into the IPA Effectiveness Awards since 2008 (including papers from Dove, Lifebuoy, Ella's Kitchen, Barclays, Volvo and Kenco) shows what efforts have already been made in this area – and what more can be done.

Janet Hull, director of marketing strategy at the IPA, said: "Opinions about brand purpose are not in scarce supply. It is our view that the biggest challenge for purpose-oriented marketers today lies in isolating and quantifying the specific impact purpose makes on outcomes from that attributable to other brand activities. Until purpose-oriented marketers account for the contribution of purpose more convincingly, they are unlikely to win over their critics.

"What is needed is detailed evidence about how effectively individual commercial brands have used activities, including advertising and other forms of marketing communications, to create a positive impact related to their stated purpose, as well as a financial benefit."

The IPA said it is keen to encourage more Awards entries that can help the industry to understand the subject of purpose better. It is currently accepting entries for its 2022 Effectiveness Awards.

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