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Let's talk purpose branding
Discussing the evolution of purpose, purpose nihilism, Cadbury's, BrewDog, Pirate Ship and creativity on Stef Hamerlinck's podcast
No full essay in this post, but follow the link above for an appearance on Stef Hamerlinck’s excellentpodcast. We discuss:
the evolution of purpose (from the long back story, to the 2008 crash, to the brand purpose fallback position, to the 2022 purpose vibe shift)
purpose nihilism (relating to this earlier post)
specific issues with Cadbury’s and BrewDog
the importance of creativity
I wrote in detail about the Cadbury’s issue in this LinkedIn post.
Towards the end of the podcast, I mention this Pirate Ship campaign by Mother:
Two more examples here and here. For me, they’re better than just good. Yes, they’re a return to great advertising principles—a funny, intensely benefit-focused idea; brilliant scriptwriting and casting (especially the delivery of that ‘what?’ by the guy in the swamp); a proper brand mascot; great hard-selling tagline; even some sonic branding. But the ads are fresh, not retro. I feel like we could give this kind of advertising a stupid name and call it a movement—maybe Neoformalism or the New Radicalism. Because there is something properly radical about doing this stuff—I would call it groundbreaking given the recent state of advertising.
1. The ultimate creative accolade
Speaking of the recent state of advertising, I’m Jury President for the Writing for Design category at D&AD this year. I give a short promo talk here, in which I pledge to judge on creativity, craft and nothing else—will see how that goes. There is still time to enter and it would be great to have some good writing work to judge.
2. Ham and brie aren’t leftovers
I mention the recent Super Bowl ads towards the end of the conversation with Stef. I don’t think there were any amazing ones this year, but there was plenty of funny, non-purposey, admittedly celeb-heavy stuff to enjoy.
Like Christmas ads in the UK, Super Bowl advertising has evolved into a special, self-contained game of its own—one that bears little relation to how advertising works for the rest of the year. I think of it like a reality TV show with ads as the contestants. And even though Purpose has done its best to take over in recent years, there have been bright sparks of humour and properly creative thinking—It’s A Tide Ad was a rare D&AD Black Pencil winner that didn’t gain any kudos from being for a righteous cause. Selling washing powder is the oldest brief in the book, and it was a brilliantly original creative answer.
Meanwhile, the Hellmann’s creative team did their best with the new ‘Make taste not waste’ purposeful positioning, enlisting Jon Hamm and Brie Larson to provide some celebrity sparkle. But that positioning is inherently a stretch and it’s bound to lead to some slightly forced ad ideas, as I tweeted at the time. Maybe things will change now that Alan Jope has been pushed out and their comms chief is changing the mood music.
3. Talking purpose in Ghent
I’ll be talking about purpose at the Work Smarter conference in Ghent on 1 June—details here. The title of the talk is ‘The road to hell’. Not a reference to Chris Rea, but to the fabled paving stones.
4. A few other links
15 minutes that might change your mind about ESG
Jeremy Bullmore—thinking incisively until the end
5. Now some music
Finally, I have a weird alter ego who tries to write Tin Pan Alley style songs, in collaboration with musician and writer Kate van der Borgh at songwritings.substack.com
For anyone new here, I’m a writer of poetry, downbeat diaries, branding and advertising projects, articles for Creative Review and The Guardian, and books about design. Thoughts on Writing uses language as a way into wider cultural and political issues.
Thanks for reading and/or listening—back with more writings soon.