The future of social purpose for brands

In recent months brands around the world have embraced social purpose and altruism. Will this mark a permanent change?

In recent months brands around the world have embraced social purpose and altruism in huge numbers. Will this shift in sentiment mark a permanent change in what we expect from brands? dentsu X's Hugh Fitz-Gibbon MIPA explores the future of social purpose for brands.

Togetherness.

That seems to be the overarching takeaway from all this. There’s no escaping the irony - being forced apart has bought us all closer.

We’re neighbours again. We care. And we want to help.

A social reset has slowed us down and given us time to reflect on what’s important. We’ve tumbled down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, placing greater importance on fundamentals like safety and security.

As we look to rebuild, we are starting to think about things differently.

In a more we, less me business world, stakeholders are being prioritised over shareholders – putting capitalism in its purest form under fire. The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer shows over half of us think it does more harm than good anyway.

We’ve seen brands donating time, money and company assets to causes outside their immediate commercial interests.

Jaguar Land Rover, for example, has donated vehicles to help deliver supplies to the elderly and NHS hospitals whilst the wider auto industry has been collaborating with the UK government to offer its manufacturing expertise where needed.

Kindvertising is everywhere - as Dan Calladine points out.

The slow-moving corporate machine is suddenly agile and responsive.

Are the blinkers off? Maybe.

Until recently, social responsibility and purpose has been a nice-to-have, an idea gathering digital dust on a well-intentioned PowerPoint somewhere in a brand strategy folder, ready for 'the right time'.

But it’s happening. It’s unexpectedly happening right now, albeit in the most tragic of circumstances.

This pandemic has rapidly accelerated the concept of businesses doing good and the response from brands has made many seem more real, empathetic and human.

The commercial coldness of old might just be beginning to thaw.

The thing is though, will this lead to permanent change?

It’s my belief that more brands will put more emphasis on social purpose in the mid to long term, pushing it up the agenda and embedding it into future strategy and company culture.

Of course, the short term is all about recovery. Hard, grueling recovery.

We need stability (financial, physical and mental) before working on more lofty motivations.

That’s so important.

But when the dust settles, brands can build upon the foundations that they’ve laid now. They’ve already started, why not carry on?

Plus, if a brand is publicly displaying seemingly altruistic action today, a reversion back to silence tomorrow would be deafening.

Like it or not, brands are beginning to have a greater influence on our society and with that comes a responsibility to lead by example. In fact, 92% of employees think their CEO’s should speak out on societal issues.

This is leading to deeper thinking about what sustainability in business means. What value can you put value in, as well as take value out, of society?

We need a balance.

Maintaining a healthy economy, society and environment is a collective endeavour. For us to market something, we need a thriving marketplace to begin with.

There has been, and will always be, a tension between profit and purpose. But now is the time to ask those bigger questions.

In challenging and disruptive times, positive change and transformation can thrive.

Things have happened that no one thought possible.

So, post-pandemic, can purpose prevail?

Hugh Fitz-Gibbon MIPA is a Planning Account Manager at dentsu X. Find out more about becoming a MIPA.

Last updated 21 September 2020