The ‘purpose backlash’​ isn’t taking us forwards.

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It would be great if the ‘purpose backlash’ in advertising and marketing was a bit less backward looking.

In the 90s & 00s I spent a lot of my career working on FMCG and car and energy and finance brands, and I worked with some great people and we had a lot of fun and won a lot of awards. But the briefs really weren’t very inspiring.

“This car has colour-co-ordinated bumpers”.

“Tell people this pet food tastes good”.

“We have a new tariff”.

“Our washing tablet has a red dot”.

These things were very important to the marketing directors who issued the briefs to the agency. But they didn’t feel very important to me. And I had a sneaky feeling that they weren’t very important to the people who bought these products either.

They were uninteresting, undifferentiated products looking for something to say. And the job of advertising or marketing was to add humour, intrigue, entertainment (etc) to make uninteresting products more interesting.

The ‘purpose backlash’ seems to calling for a return to those times, rather than looking ahead to a better alternative.

That doesn’t seem like much of an offer to make to the marketing and advertising graduates who are coming into the industry. The ones I’m working with today are having the time of their lives. They’re getting briefs asking them to reinvent products and sectors. To make work about things that they and their friends and families actually care about. To tackle real problems. To start conversations with and about society. To get noticed and to make a difference.

So, we can debate the efficacy and value of brand purpose all day. But before we do that, my question to all the ad industry luminaries who want us to return to the days of USPs, price promotions and product benefits is this – have you got a better offer?

Because otherwise the truth is, you’re not advertising advertising very well. And that should be the one thing you’re brilliant at.