Corporate mantra

Brand purpose has been a big trend in marketing for some time now. Like all trends, it has its champions (most prominently, Unilever CEO Paul Polman) and its detractors (Marketing Week columnist and professor, Mark Ritson, for one). Either way, it’s not going anywhere soon.

For those late to the party, ‘brand purpose’ is the idea that brands should strive to make a more positive contribution to society than just turning a profit. In contrast to CSR, a brand’s purpose should extend from the product; i.e. how the brand makes a profit.

Supporting a good cause – however worthy – is not considered a brand purpose if it doesn’t relate to what the brand does. You’ll notice a slight paradox here: purpose is about more than just making profits, yet it must also derive from how those profits are made…

Contradictions aside, campaigns around purpose have started to come downstream from original pioneers like Patagonia and Dove. Recent positioning work has seen us testing ‘purpose-based’ territories for all sorts of brands. And the reaction from consumers has been overwhelmingly positive.

Without fail, the ‘purpose one’ will generally come out second or top in a group scenario. And that’s not just a group effect; one-on-one they’ll tell you the same. It’s because purpose appeals to our ‘ideal self’ (who we would like to be), rather than our ‘real self’ (who we actually are).

Most of us would like to think of ourselves as the type of people who would pay more for the responsible brand – rather than opting for the cheapest, or the most premium, or the most fashionable. But, in reality, these factors exert a greater hold over us than we would often like to admit.

Unfortunately, brands themselves are also guilty of idealising consumer behaviour. The assumption is that by appealing to our better instincts, we will naturally flock to their product/service. That’s not to say consumers aren’t seeking responsible behaviour from brands; rather, that purpose needs to be thought of within a broader set of choice factors. Moreover, established ideas around aspiration remain sticky – in some categories consumers really do just want to feel cool/stylish/sophisticated rather than virtuous.

That said, when brand and cause are aligned, purpose can be a powerful way to enhance a brand’s offering.

Ikea has given new expression to founder Ingvar Kamprad’s purpose to ‘create a better everyday life for the many people’ through its commitment to sustainability. But rather than simply using it as a comms platform, the company has embedded it into every aspect of the business – from packaging to product to store design.

Crucially, Ikea hasn’t changed what it stands for; by folding sustainability into its existing purpose, it’s enhanced what it offers in the process.

This approach to purpose recognises what drives consumer behaviour at a basic level (affordable, stylish furniture i.e. the ‘real self’) while also allowing consumers to indulge their ‘ideal self’ by framing the brand as a sustainable choice.  

As more and more brands throw themselves headlong into purpose, Ikea’s thoroughgoing yet realistic approach surely presents the most viable way forward for the concept.


Back to school time is upon us! Uniforms are being prepped, snazzy lunch boxes are waiting to be filled, and people are flocking to Paperchase for the latest funky stationery. 

Seeing kids gear up for the new school year got me thinking about some of the ‘in’ brands from my school days; all left back in the past along with BBM and Bebo: (Argh, I feel old! *starts weeping*)

Hoodies, jogging bottoms, and beach vibe stores. Everyone I knew loved shopping in Hollister. I can even remember queues coming out of the door during its peak. But today’s teens don’t share the same enthusiasm; it’s an expensive brand and, as savvy shoppers, they’d rather invest their money elsewhere. They connect more with brands that show realness and diversity in beauty – Hollister’s image comes across as a little too ‘perfect’.

Soggy footwear ruined by the rain is neither practical nor a good look; but we still wore UGGs whatever the weather. Unfortunately (maybe fortunately depending on how you look at it) cheaper, knock-off versions swept the market and soon everyone was wearing them, taking away their exclusive status and ruining the brand.

Despite the brand trying to make a comeback numerous times, teens shun UGG these days in favour of trainers and an everyday wardrobe of athleisure wear.

Body sprays
Sickly-sweet smells always dominated the school changing rooms. Every girl’s schoolbag had a can of Charlie or Impulse in there. Some still do in fact! Just last year, Impulse brought out a new range to satisfy a need for lighter fragrances in the form of mists. And these aren’t just for teens; luxury retailers have their own ranges as a cheaper, everyday alternative to perfume.

Jane Norman
The PE bags! Everyone at my school used a plastic Jane Norman bag to carry their PE kit in. Even if you’d only bought one item from that store, you kept that bag and used it at least a hundred times until it was bruised and battered. You won’t find these bags around anymore; the retailer failed to keep up with changing trends and consumer demands leading to its administration in 2011.

So, what do brands need to know about the needs of today’s youth? They’re more demanding than ever and want brands that actually do something for them, making their life easier in some way [Uber]. They want to connect with brands but on a deeper level, feeding into product design and development [Glossier] And as we’ve heard several times, they like brands that demonstrate social responsibility [Lush].

Not much to ask for!

Everyday play

I consider myself relatively optimistic. I’m a glass half full/look on the bright side kinda gal.

But being an adult is hard work. (I’m in my thirties and still don’t feel prepared.) There’s no sugar coating it; the world feels like a pretty crummy place right now and we’re faced with doom and gloom in the news every day.

As adults, our growing responsibilities tend to come with high levels of stress. The Mental Health Foundation conducted a UK study earlier this year. Of the 4,619 respondents, 74% stated that they’ve been so stressed in the previous twelve months, that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

So, it’s no surprise that there’s a huge and growing trend for adult escapism in the form of play. When browsing Time Out last weekend to find something new – and a little bit different – to do with a group of friends, I was amazed by how many experiences exist; all encouraging adults to be transported back to more innocent times. From Disney sing-along brunches to ball pit cocktail bars and adult-only bouncy castles, we can take our pick. (And yes, I’m tempted by all of these!)

Journalist Cherrill Hicks describes this movement as the ‘infantilising trend for adult play’, which has touched everything from products to services and toys to art galleries.

But why is infantilising so popular?

As summarised nicely in a Virgin guest blog, experts suggest a number of reasons:

  • Playfulness taps into a fun, stress-free era; and that helps to escape current problems and uncertainties.
  • It draws on our collective memory of the past and connects us to others.
  • It brings out our ‘inner child’, making us feel youthful and energised.
  • It embraces creativity, humour and optimism.
  • It’s spontaneous, interactive and frees us from ‘grown-up’ rules and structures.

This is by no means a new phenomenon; it’s been a gradual shift over time and doesn’t look like it’ll disappear overnight. In 2015, the adult colouring book trend was at its peak, generating sales of over £24m. Although these sales haven’t been maintained, we’re seeing more brands offering products & services that embrace playfulness.

Injecting playfulness into everyday life
Nostalgic experiences like mini golf, retro video games and escape rooms are big business. Exercise, which has been traditionally viewed as a chore, is being given a make-over and playground-inspired fitness activities are becoming more common. Companies like Rabble promise adults they’ll ‘have fun & get fit’ with sessions such as dodgeball, capture the flag, and the hunger games all on offer. The USA stepped things up a notch with AquaMermaid school offering the chance for participants to get fit while living out their fantasies of having a mermaid’s tail(!).

Infant embodiment
Adult onesies are an excellent example of this. And you can’t step into a high street shop these days without coming face-to-face with a unicorn (still!), or a flamingo, or even (the latest Instagram obsession) a Llama. What connects these trends? They’re all vibrant, cute, harmless, and allow consumers to revert to childhood. As brand strategist Jess Weiner put it, “women are in need of fantastical magic in their lives right now, because we’re surrounded by culture and politics that are very bleak and dark and oppressive”.   

Playful brands: packaging & brand experiences
There are many ways that brands use their packaging as a vehicle to spread joy and to appeal to the youthful mindset of their target consumers. During the 2017 festive season, Starbucks offered shoppers the chance to customise their own cups with colour & illustrations.

Then there are the brands who use child-like experiences to engage; a great example is Toys“R”Us, who installed a giant Etch A Sketch in a New York subway station last year to encourage adults to take a break from their stressful days.

Closer to home, breakfast brand Up & Go launched in the UK with an inflatable assault course on the Southbank. Even the Razors went along early one morning to take part!

The desire for fun activities, and products with a nostalgic charm, is clearly showing no signs of abating. And where there’s demand, there’s always supply…

Old is gold


“What’s French for ‘va-va-voom’?”

Either of these sound familiar? Possibly not if you were born during the nineties or later. But that’s okay; let’s take a trip down memory lane.  

I realise that nostalgia (or looking back at the past with rose-tinted specs) isn’t for everyone. Personally, I’m okay with being reminded of simpler or happier times in my life. Social media does it to me regularly by waving photos under my nose every now and then which result in a usually warm and fuzzy reaction.

Music and fashion have always evolved by bringing past trends and sounds back in a new way. Culturally, we’re constantly idealising the past and the internet provides all the inspiration needed to do so; particularly for those of us raised in the 80s and 90s as we’ve personally documented so much from those decades. TV’s The Goldbergs and Derry Girls are just two current examples. 

Be it a post on Facebook or introducing your child to a TV programme you watched twenty years ago, if it’s about something you love(d), you’re more likely to share it with others.  

Nostalgia is powerful and brands know it. 

Enter, Renault.

The French car manufacturer is currently showing off its new Clio range – and celebrating Renault’s 120th anniversary – with a 90s nostalgia activation. Click here to see the ‘showroom’ being taken to millennials. 

Thierry Henry fans will also be pleased to know that he’s returning as brand ambassador and will appear in new TV idents that will appear on Sky Sports during the 2018/19 Premier League season.

Will any of the above make me buy a Renault Clio? No. But what makes this kind of marketing work are its social media sharing opportunities and positive emotional brand associations; which in turn drive business. (Car pun intended.)

McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Walkers and countless others have been doing nostalgia marketing for years. Whether it’s packaging, logos, retro posters, or good old TV advertising, bringing the past back to life is a gold mine for some brands.

I recently found my old Nokia 8110 ‘banana’ phone while doing some belated spring cleaning. It still had some charge on it too! Who could resist a game (or several) of Snake after a discovery like that? Rumour has it that, like the 3310, it too will be making a comeback. Again, I won’t be rushing out to buy a new handset but here I am telling you about it…