David Chriswick, Head of Brand Strategy at DigitasLBi Chicago and a judge in the Effective Use of Brand Purpose category in the 2018 WARC Awards, talks to Lucy Aitken about what brands can learn from last year's winning Whirlpool paper, which he co-authored, and shares his favourite examples of effective brand purpose.

You wrote in your winning paper, “activating its brand purpose helped make Whirlpool more relevant again.” Could other brands learn from Whirlpool’s example and reinvigorate themselves via a more purpose-led strategy?

Yes. Every brand should have a brand purpose but that doesn’t mean every brand needs to go try change the world. Finding and defining a brand’s purpose involves questions on its cultural fit and role in society, but deciding on whether to go out and do good is a different conversation. The strategic intent of Brand Purpose should, first and foremost, be to help the brand stand out more, be more relevant and remembered by more people and, ultimately, lead to sales in some way after execution. Unless of course you’re a not-for-profit. In the case of Whirlpool, activating from ‘Helping Families Thrive’ with the Care Counts initiative made sense in more ways than one. It helped families, their communities and society, at the same time as helping us tell the brand story in a fresh new way.

The first question you ask should be: ‘What’s our brand purpose – why do we exist? - and how might that lend itself to doing some good in the world?’ as opposed to starting with ‘What social good campaign can we do?’ That’s not necessarily always brand purpose-led work. Empowering women isn’t State St. Advisers brand purpose just because they did Fearless Girl [link to case study]. That was a causal act. They are different.

State Street's Fearless Girl

Is there still a misunderstanding that brand purpose and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are interchangeable terms? If so, what are the dangers of thinking along these lines?

There are lots of different reasons why we are confused as to what brand purpose is, how it differs from Corporate Social Responsibility and, at an individual brand level, just doing some good amongst other, less causal activities. To me, brand purpose should simply be an ambitious, motivating reason why a brand exists. It can be something about making the world a better place or simply fulfilling a need for the category at a higher standard. That’s no less powerful if it’s helping people have better lives, and it’s never going to restrict you from doing some social good either. Think about Google’s purpose to organise the world’s information and to make it more accessible, or Nike’s purpose to empower everyone’s inner athlete. They are all more centred around what the products are good at than some saintly promise to change the world.

In the case of Care Counts, it was Whirlpool the brand, not the Whirlpool Corporation, that activated its ‘Helping Families Thrive’ Brand Purpose with Care Counts. CSR is what the company does to do less harm and give back, which is often separate to Brand Purpose, which is different according to individual brands in the portfolio. That all depends on the organisation’s brand architecture, of course.

What examples of brand purpose have impressed you over the years?

Pedigree Feed the Good and American Express Small Business Saturday are both big ideas that scaled, travelled, endured and evolved to stay fresh and relevant. But they also helped in some way to redefine the whole brand, not just the ‘doing good’ silo of activity.

I also love what AXE did with its Find Your Magic platform. It set out to break down that culture of “toxic masculinity”, saying to guys that it was OK for them to be themselves, all beginning with some really rich insight gleaned from looking into what guys were asking Google, such as “Is it OK for me to wear makeup?” This led to some fantastic content from AXE that was relevant for the brand and culture. I’m sure that what was good to help that conversation was good for business too.

Still from Lynx's Find Your Magic

I worked on Skittles at DDB in a global strategy role when adam&eveDDB sent me over the genesis of an idea for limited edition all white, colour-free Skittles as a pledge of support to LGBT and the Pride organisation. It was all about ‘giving back the rainbow’ to celebrate Pride.

This might have been purpose-led but it wasn’t the Brand Purpose – I know because I co-wrote that with the Mars Wrigley global team the year before. This was just a simple, ownable campaign idea and really just the right thing to do at the right time, for the community and also the brand.

What would you say to the many cynics of brand purpose strategies who argue that it is a fad that is falling out of fashion?

If we align to the definition of brand purpose as a motivating, ambitious reason why a brand exists in the world then brand purpose will always play a big part in our strategic planning. It always has, but before it may have been called something else, like the good old mission statement. As for the ‘doing good’ campaigns like the ones we’ll be judging in these awards, we might see fewer of them in future because of more critical conversation being stirred up around the commercial value of doing good. It’ll be harder to stand out and do something not done before as well. The ones we do see will be more genuine, authentic efforts to change the world in some way. And the link between the cause and the brand truth will be a lot clearer, almost obvious – a more natural brand behaviour tied back to what the brand does best, not an unsuitable ideal.

The 2018 WARC Awards, a global search for next-generation effectiveness ideas, are now open for entries until 12 February 2018. 

There are four categories: Effective Innovation, Effective Use of Brand Purpose, Effective Content Strategy and Effective Social Strategy. Like all WARC Awards programmes, entry is free.