With Unilever starting to see positive results from its much publicised new purposeful approach, Kantar Futures executive chairman J Walker Smith says it's time for brands to set rather than simply follow this new agenda.
Unilever's shift in tactics towards advertising with purpose seems to be working. According to the company's executive vice president of global marketing Aline Santos, speaking at Advertising Week in New York in October, pursuing the #unstereotype initiative to end female stereotyping has produced ads that are "more relevant to consumers and connect more deeply with consumers."
She also said that "the impact in terms of brand awareness has been growing". Santos backed her comments up with figures, saying: "50% of Unilever's growth today is coming from brands that are acting on their purpose. And the growth that we are getting from these brands is 30% higher than the brands where we didn't crack the purpose."
This throws up some interesting questions:
1. Is ad creative more powerful than we thought?
If you can grow a brand by nearly a third by simply changing the creative approach, then it suggests this is far more influential than it is generally given credit for.
2. Are politics and academia increasing their influence over marketing?
Purpose is being embraced more and more by brands, whether that's in terms of gender equality, sustainability or another cause, putting more of the political and intellectual weight pervading academia and campus protests behind campaigns.
3. Is the purposeful shift generational?
Whether buying or working for brands, Millennials seem to be driving this new approach that reflects their different view of the world and brands' place in it compared to older generations.
This groundswell of purpose and its positive impact on Unilever surely means that brands need to do more than merely catch up in terms of gender stereotyping and taking a more responsible approach in general. They have to go further, setting the purposeful agenda.
Female identity, for example, is not standing still. In fact, it's evolving at break-neck speed. Those brands that acknowledge this and make an effort not simply to keep pace, but also strive to pre-empt women's future development in society are likely to be those that will truly resonate and reap the rewards in terms of engagement and loyalty with a female audience.
The advertising and marketing industry has got a lot of ground to make up to simply project a realistic, contemporary picture of female identity, so keeping up with and pre-empting its evolution will be no easy task. The good news is that Unilever has now shown that it pays dividends, and that those brands brave enough to move their strategy forward have a great opportunity for growth, disruption and creativity.
To do so, brands will need to look beyond delivering the best product or service to match demand. They will also need to get a deeper understanding of how values and culture are changing, so that they cannot just reflect an accurate picture of the status quo, but challenge and shape new, more progressive visions, whether of female identity, the LGBTQ community, global poverty, sustainability or another purpose.