You don’t need the big budget to embrace purpose

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Early last year, Unilever doubled down on brand purpose and argued that investing more in purposeful communications is the smart thing to do for any brand. That was January 2020, and since then, a global pandemic has proven Unilever quite right, with consumers naturally gravitating towards those brands promising them meaning.

If someone such as the CEO of Unilever Alan Jope realised the importance of purpose, you can bet that smaller brands should be following the same path as well, and it is our job as the partners of those brands to take them by hand and lead them in this incredibly wondrous journey.

Except Unilever’s marketing budget was over £60m in 2019, and that might scare you off a bit.

So what?


Image credit: Chelsea Pictures & AMV BBDO

Purpose means profit?

It is a concept old as day and running water – purpose sells, and that is often the main reason why so many businesses decide to jump on the bandwagon. Being relatable, connect with consumers and offer them meaning is an incredibly fruitful short and long-term investment, one that most brands cannot simply ignore anymore.

But with brand purpose comes a series of challenges, most involving marketing and advertising spend. How can you market a brand in a purposeful way? How much money do you need to invest to paint a positive, purpose-driven picture of your client? Do you need the £60m budget that Unilever allots for marketing?

If you are going for Super Bowl ad space, then perhaps yes, you may need it. A 30-second slot at the Super Bowl would cost you over $5.5m alone in 2020, and the price tends to rise every single year. Depending on the ad in question, it does yield incredible results – according to Forbes, “the Anheuser-Busch ad during the 2021 Super Bowl — the one that’s about people getting together after the pandemic — increased consumers' purchase consideration by 156%.” In laymen numbers, that is a lot. But it also calls for an incredibly costly investment.

It would certainly be nice to have that amount of money to spare in a Super Bowl ad space. But really, the true answer most of the times is quite easy to guess: you only need simplicity.


Reverse Selfie by Ogilvy is an incredibly simple idea to promote all forms of beauty at all ages.

The case of Burger King

Burger King is a champion of incredibly impactful simplicity for minimal budget. The Proud Whopper campaign from 2014 is an excellent example. For those who may not remember it, Burger King wrapped a regular Whopper in rainbow paper and called it ‘Proud Whopper’ to raise awareness of the LGBTQ+ community. Though that may sound like a very cynical move, the point of the campaign was exactly that: there is no difference between communities.

Contrary to what most brands do during Pride Month, launching bespoke LGBTQ+ products to support the community and raise donations, Burger King did not launch a new product at all, and chose instead to work on the packaging side. Clearly more cost-effective, incredibly simple idea, yet arresting in its own right.

The list goes on and on, from the recent Moldy Whopper to the Burger Queen campaign in 2018. Simplicity at the service of purpose, with no need for millions and millions spent in advertising budget to paint a positive image of an existing company. Pandemic Year was not different at all; at some point, the brand released a simple letter asking consumers to buy from McDonald’s to support the fast food industry in lockdown. You couldn’t find a simpler, purposeful and community-driven idea if you tried for a million years.

In a year like 2020, McDonald’s lost around $2 billion in global profits, resulting in a 23.9% decline in sales.

Burger King only lost $0.2 billion, resulting in a 10% decline in revenue.

That’s how powerful a strong and simple idea can be.


Purpose beats budget

This is not to say that Burger King’s relative success in 2020 was thanks to one letter across social media. There will be other elements at play, of course. But certainly it is a significant testimony to the power of simplicity over budget, and to how purpose can help brands connect with people on the most basic level.

Small and mid-tier agencies should not fear approaching big purpose ideas for their clients. They will understand the investment and, if not, there will always be a way to make things simpler. Consumers are yearning and craving new ways and reasons to connect with their favourite brands, and that makes all the difference. Authenticity, honesty, humanity and true storytelling will matter more than anything else.

And then, there’s the old issue of wanting to change the world with creativity. Any small action matters in the grand scheme of things. You don’t need big, theatrical initiatives to show the world how much your local community means to you, or why diversity in your workforce matters.

It may not fill the headlines of all the media outlets out there, and it certainly may not feel like a huge PR stunt. But it will give you something more valuable: the trust and love of your most affectionate consumers.


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