5 steps to enhance brand purpose discussions

An evidence-based approach to brand purpose

There is an opportunity to enhance the discussions about brand purpose by increasing the quantity and quality of evidence about whether or not purpose has contributed effectively to the desired outcomes of individual, for-profit brands. This is the core thrust of a new IPA report that identifies five steps practitioners can take to enhance current brand purpose discussions.

Outlined in the report, the IPA defines purpose as the reason a commercial brand exists beyond maximising profit to produce other meaningful forms of positive impact for individuals, societies, or the environment. It communicates both an organising principle for action in the brand’s present and an aspiration for its future.

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

Analysis of cases 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, Kenco and more) shows what efforts have already been made in this area – and what more can be done. Whether marketers aim to submit a purpose case study in the 2022 IPA Effectiveness Awards or future competitions, or simply want to evolve their own thinking and practice around purpose, the report identifies the following steps practitioners could take to enhance the current debate:

  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 case studies from these brands because it has not been the focus of their activity at a consumer level.

The IPA believes that these steps may help the discussions move forward on the basis of a shared framework of wider and more robust evidence.

Says Janet Hull OBE, Director of Marketing Strategy, IPA:

"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 is keen to encourage more Awards entries that can help the industry to understand the subject of purpose better. For the 2022 IPA Effectiveness Awards, there are new Special Prizes for the Best Demonstration of Purpose in for-profit and not-for-profit categories. It hopes this guide will prove useful to any client and agency team seeking to create a watertight entry in this area, as well as anyone who wants the debate on brand purpose to advance on a better evidence base.

Download the free 'Effective on Purpose' report.


The IPA is hosting a free, virtual industry event to discuss 'Purpose in Perspective' tomorrow – 3-4pm, Tuesday 18 January – with speakers including IPA Effectiveness Awards 2022 Deputy Convenor of Judges Jo Arden, CSO, Publicis.Poke; Ben Essen, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Iris and Steve Harrison, Author, Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell.

Last updated 01 May 2024