Walnut Unlimited’s Dr Cristina de Balanzo served on the 2023 Brand Purpose jury for the Global WARC Awards for Effectiveness. Here she explores how the success of brands that take a stand and show courage should reassure future entrants that taking risks pays off.

Brand purpose is hard to get right for many reasons. It is both inspiring and challenging to identify best-in-class examples that can provide guidance to our industry on how to bring a brand's purpose to life while driving strong business outcomes and positive change. The rise of 'purpose' has only grown stronger in the COVID-19 era, and the pressing issues of climate change, social inequality, and political unrest have further accelerated its importance. The fact that we had over 100 entries in the Brand Purpose category for this year’s Global WARC Awards for Effectiveness is a testament to its significance.

Brand purpose demonstrates that the role of brands has never been more important. Brands not only help people make choices but can also have a positive impact on their lives through their actions and values. Tackling significant issues while achieving commercial success and benefiting the wider community is a powerful combination, albeit a challenging one to execute well. The winners in this category demonstrated some of the key ingredients for success.

Brand purpose must drive behavioural change

Looking at the final list of winners and shortlisted campaigns, a common denominator emerges: these brands have been agents of change for the better. The extensive list showcases creative strategies from a diverse array of categories, featuring both big and small brands. These campaigns address important societal issues such as harmful stereotypes, climate change, prejudice, diversity and inclusion, inequality, and many more. They demonstrate the power of brands to bring about positive change and provoke meaningful conversations, shaping the culture.

Vaseline’s See My Skin campaign won the Grand Prix. It exemplified the essence of being the next best thing rather than simply the best. This campaign aimed to inclusively represent a population that had been overlooked. It not only emotionally connected with the target audience while fulfilling a real and lifesaving need but also made the wider population realise the void that existed. This campaign has successfully helped to shift the brand's positioning from skincare to the healing space while driving behavioural change. It resulted in increased website traffic, users making appointments with dermatologists, and sparked conversations and debates about inclusivity and prejudice.

Another impactful campaign was the Gold-winning H for Handwashing from Lifebuoy. It focused on creating a habit, which is often a challenging endeavour due to human resistance to change. This campaign showcased how to intervene effectively and sustainably, overcoming the difficulty of adopting new behaviours.

The Bronze-winning Hypo Toilet Cleaner campaign in Nigeria is a prime example of brand purpose that involves people as agents of change. In this volunteer-led campaign, the real heroes were the people themselves, who fought against open defecation. Despite being a small player, this brand achieved significant commercial success, gaining market share and category penetration while tackling a pressing issue.

Brand purpose extends beyond brand impressions

It measures its impact in brand awareness, loyalty, reputation, and profitability. Brands and agencies need to demonstrate the effectiveness of their purpose-driven campaigns by showcasing measurable metrics that indicate shifts in people's behaviours, perceptions, and attitudes. It was surprising to see some entries that lacked evidence of such impact. Amongst all winners, the Vaseline Grand Prix and the StayFree’s Silver-winning Breaking Taboos By Breaking Silence campaigns both provided strong evidence of their impact on brand relevance, consideration, product recommendations, and product usage. Also Air Wick’s Bronze-awarded campaign Reseeding Our Appreciation For Nature managed to gain a significant increase in market share, which is not an easy task with a brand purpose campaign in a category mainly driven by innovation.

Brand purpose is a long-term play

Having a vision for the long term is crucial to success. When addressing societal issues or fulfilling a need, brands must have this long-term commitment. The creative ideas and platforms must have staying power. Some entries that were reviewed but not awarded, failed to demonstrate a long-term vision. They focused on short-term fixes or campaigns that lacked longevity. This oversight hindered their ability to showcase meaningful change or see its value or evolution over time.

In contrast, the Lifebuoy campaign embraced a long-term vision by aligning its brand essence with its purpose. The campaign realised that creating a sustainable handwashing habit could play a significant role in preventing future pandemics and a brand platform for future growth.

Dove's #StopTheNameCalling campaign in the Philippines, although making it to the shortlist, exemplified the relevance of an idea rooted still in the brand's purpose of ‘Positive Beauty’ after decades, was still relevant. But this local campaign also highlights the need to constantly reinterpret and adapt your brand purpose to different cultures and contexts while maintaining a consistent core in its long-term commitment to the cause.

Keep purpose at the heart of your brand essence, but not restricted to it

Dell's campaign I Will Always Be Me won Silver but raises the question of whether it falls within the brand's DNA or it is part of a wider repositioning exercise. Their technological innovation addresses an important issue – allowing those with motor neurone disease to ‘bank’ their own voices before they are lost – while repositioning the brand as a technological leader with a focus on humanity and progress. It presents a huge opportunity for the brand for future actions around the use of technology and innovation for good, and not a one off.

The Bronze-winning Air Wick with its ‘One Square Foot’ initiative aligns its brand purpose more clearly with its essence, while providing a strong emotional benefit. The campaign strategically leverages reciprocity, engaging people through the act of kindness. This simple yet powerful idea garnered cooperation and participation. Surprisingly, this was the only winning campaign in the climate change/sustainability space. While there were other entries claiming these credentials, they lacked sufficient evidence to demonstrate the impact they had.

The brand purpose category serves as a guiding light for our industry. Brands now face the pressure to take a stand and be courageous, but the awarded work in this category provides reassurance that taking risks pays off. Brands have the potential to make the world a better place while achieving commercial success. The possibilities are limitless but require a deep human understanding, a positive tone and a large dose of creativity.