Profit vs Purpose – The Eternal Balancing Act in Advertising #PurposeMonth

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Not to get lofty, but what is life without purpose? An existence without something that drives us forward, gives us a feeling of achievement and a reason for being.

Sometimes, it feels like advertising has taken purpose and turned it into a content pillar or KPI, something that must be externally validated by an awards committee. It can be bolted on, given away, and paid for, causing the word in our industry to lose its meaning. Does the regular person on the street consider purpose as much as the latest TikTok videos from a well-known cleaning brand? I’m not so sure.


So, what is purpose? How do we define it? To me, that's the beauty of purpose; it's individual, a spectrum, and anything that adds meaning and depth to our lives. It’s often associated with doing 'good', but is it more about doing 'something,' about creating change, whether that change is positive or negative?

Purpose creates ripples, leaving a mark on society. We often ask ourselves, 'What’s the purpose of this campaign/this post/this large slide and ball pit in our office?' And I don’t believe the answer always has to be 'to change the world for the better'. After all, what is 'better'? Who gets to decide that? And who gave us the right to assume that role?

From my perspective, our role in this equation is to create work that motivates people to act. Due to the nature of our work, that action often involves inviting consumers to think differently about a product or service or even to part with their money to purchase it. However, in recent years, this original purpose of our work has started to feel insufficient for those of us responsible for executing it.


We, as a workforce, have become more aware of the hardships and injustices faced by people at home and in far-off countries and the negative impact we might be causing through our work. The majority of us no longer feel comfortable promoting products like oil and cigarettes, encouraging gambling, or fuelling consumerism in a world already overflowing with 'stuff'.

But, alas, despite good intentions and aspirations to do better, the world still turns; we work in advertising for bosses, clients, and brands who need to earn money to employ us, innovate, grow, and develop. These things aren’t mutually exclusive with working with purpose. Each person must decide their purpose and also, what things they can compromise on without facing an existential crisis. Everyone is different, but I believe more than ever, we bring a lot of ourselves to work and vice versa.

On some level, we need our work to align with our personal values or at least move in a direction towards them. Splitting yourself in two for work and outside of work is a one-way ticket to mental illness and is, quite frankly, very bad vibes. Creativity comes from inside; it is personal, and we bring things like humour, passion, and lived experience to our work. It is incredibly hard to leave core values out of this and will ultimately lead to bad work that will not earn the much sought-after trust of consumers, which companies need to make sales and pay our salaries each month.


Another way to approach this is from the consumer’s perspective. More brands than ever find themselves in hot water for shady behaviour, cultural missteps, and dodgy dealings. Consumers now expect actions, not just words, and demand transparency around everything from business strategy to production methods.

Customer trust is at an all-time low as we feel we’re giving our money to companies who too easily become unstuck ethically when the going gets tough because they are not driven by a strong purpose. As creatives, working without knowing our purpose is no longer getting results, and companies continue to fail their customers as their superficial values cannot keep them honest.

The balance of purpose within a business is tricky, but ‘balance we must’ in order to continue forward as companies, consumers, and creatives. It’s a delicate act of maintaining integrity while meeting the practical demands of the industry. Let’s strive to find that equilibrium and create work that not only sells but also resonates deeply with our values and those of our consumers.

By Laura Muldoon, Creator Director @ SocialChain


Images by Khudayar Aghayarov


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