This new wave of brand purpose isn’t a pandemic fad

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We’ve seen brands rise and fall during the last decade, but never as fast as in 2020.

A correct approach to brand purpose could make or break a brand in the last year-and-something, and those regarding brand purpose as a shiny checkbox for their marketing strategy have already been called out far and wide.

This past year stuck at home taught a number of brands how important it is to connect with their audiences and make those conversations relatable on a human level. Community, diversity, solidarity and support were some of the most relevant buzzwords in 2020, perhaps boosted by the Black Lives Matter movement and the tragic murder of George Floyd.

In this climate, one may be mistaken in believing that this new wave of brand purpose is just a pandemic fad. It’s temporary, not bound to last, and most importantly of all, it’s nothing to really be concerned of. Well, enough time has passed now for the industry to recollect and understand what it is all about, leading us to the conclusion that yes, maybe creativity can change the world after all (perhaps a topic for another time). So now, we all have a much clearer answer to give to all those sceptical clients: brand purpose is stronger than ever, and it’s here to stay.


Dove has been on a mission to normalise all kinds of beauty for years. It was a well-placed brand when the pandemic began, and it will keep going strong. Image credit: Ogilvy

The Purpose Rush

In 2020, we’ve seen brands in the likes of Burger King, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and many others re-enter the stage as the most prominent brands in the industry. The NHS brand in the UK was particularly strong too, tasked with the immensely complicated objective to educate an entire population about face-masking, social-distancing and the risks of a pandemic.

All of these main players were characterised by one common quality: they showed their intrinsic humanity to the people. Tesco admitted screw-ups with their toilet paper and a whole new tone of voice from their CEO; Burger King pleaded customers to “order from McDonald’s” to save the fast food industry; and when Christmas time was upon us, everyone from Pizza Hut to Amazon and Sainsbury’s decided to address the year that just was, with heartbreaking stories from the pandemic and a warm feeling of community to dominate their Christmas ads.

There was a general purpose rush to find one’s own voice and humanity in the eyes of the public, showing that we are all in this together and only together can we hope to reach a new normal. In a way, the brands which had already embraced purpose were much better equipped for 2020 from the start.

Admittedly, some have been slightly less successful than others in the process. The UK government was a particularly intense show of contradictions, bad crisis management and failure to connect with the public. But those trying to jump on the purpose bandwagon just to increase brand awareness and sales will reap the consequences of that choice in the years to come, as more brands will show their human side in the new normal and the vestige of a global pandemic will loom in our distant memories.

Consumer perception of brands has changed. And the industry will have to deal with what’s left.

Only the human will survive

The pandemic has brought upon the industry a shift in consumer habits of epic proportions. Whilst people still love shopping, there is a large proportion of consumers that will turn to e-commerce considerably more often now, not to mention the fact that most employers are now more likely to work in a hybrid fashion. People will go around less, spend more time with their families and themselves. And after a year spent connecting with other people while apart, after a year that taught us how important it is to feel and be human at all times, the strongest brands will be the ones who can adapt to this new balance.

Only the most human will survive. Brands who will be able to show empathy, support and humanity to their target audience, tapping into their need for human storytelling and care. Stories that feel personal, oriented towards community and inclusion, diversity and authenticity. Being transparent and honest is everything that a brand can hope to be in the years to come. And as this gap between brands and consumers closes, brand purpose will no longer be a shiny addition to your marketing strategy – it will turn into a must.

This new brand of brand purpose isn’t just a pandemic fad. It won’t go away with the virus and, in fact, it’s here to shape the future of the industry forever. Hopefully by teaching brands about the power they hold in changing the world for everybody who lives in it.

It is true, Adland’s sole objective is to help clients sell their stuff better. And yet, profit and growth have stopped being the only important metric a long time ago. Now it’s all about being different. Being true.

Being human.

Header image: Jonas Roth for WWF


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