Earlier this year Unilever boss Alan Jope got into a public spat with Terry Smith, the CEO of a big shareholder of theirs, Fundsmith. The crux of the debate was whether Hellmann’s Mayonnaise should have a purpose. Smith felt that it was ‘ludicrous’ that a jar of mayo had to have a purpose, thereby attacking Unilever’s whole strategy. Jope responded that, “purpose drives profits”. 

Speaking on the Kantar Marketplace Hexagon Stage at MAD//Fest last month, Ian Maskell, VP Global Marketing argued that marketing through purpose is a “strategic choice” and is a key “growth lever”. This despite the fact that 80% of brand buyers knowing nothing about the brands they buy on a routine and daily basis. 

Brands do get it wrong

“You can’t have a purpose strategy without having the credibility to have a purpose strategy”, Maskell argued. He believes that the key question brands have to ask themselves is, “Are you credible?”

Brands should not talk about things or areas where they have no credibility. Maskell went on to say that, “brands that have built their business on social causes from day one, are credible and can be successful.” Using the example of Unilever’s own Ben & Jerry’s brand, he added that “no one questions their right to be purposeful” because it has been baked into their brand from the very beginning. 

Ben & Jerry's is able to be an activist brand and speak on many environmental and societal issues because it has done from day-one . Its activism is credible and authentic.

What’s right for one brand isn’t necessarily right for another

With Unilever being home for many brands, Maskell has seen that there is great opportunity for them to leverage purpose in an effective way. Hellmans, the focus of Terry Smith’s criticism, has successfully used purpose wonderfully well in North America.

Hellmans has been running this campaign, ‘make taste, not waste’, which is all about trying to reduce food waste, which is a huge problem, in a part of the world where in Canada alone, 4 million go hungry every year. Therefore, by collecting food waste, that would have been thrown out of restaurants and supermarkets, to give and feed those that need it.

Maskell argues that Hellmans was able to do this because it had the credibility to talk in that space as it is about food. It would make no sense for Dove to tackle this issue, as much as it would for Hellmans to talk about self-esteem for women, something that Dove has successfully done. 

Showing that purpose can equal profit, Maskell said, “purpose done well is powerful”, and that Hellmans had increased it's revenue by 11% in 2021. 

Why the future of branding is purpose 

Maskell was keen to stress that “purpose is not about expensive production, it’s about doing it well, it’s about pure creativity, and saying your message in the right way.” He added that, “for those of you who are working on brands, and really have a passion for what your brand can do, and the difference you can make in society, this is a strategic choice. In my opinion, it is a key growth lever.”

He finished by saying that, “the future of branding will be purposeful” and adding that brands have a place in this debate because brands need to address the impact they have because they are part of the problem. 

“If brands underpin purpose with a strong creative narrative, then they're in a powerful place, and consumers will reward them…So my overarching ending statement on this is don't start with your why it's not about you start with their why but do be creative in doing it”

To find out more about Unilever's purpose strategy watch Ian's session HERE

Over 8,000 people attended MAD//Fest on 6-7 July. Speakers included Rachel Waller, Global VP Innovation, Burberry, Sarah Barron, CMO, Domino's, Peter Zillig, Marketing Director, Ford Europe, Susan Hoffman, W+K, and author & broadcaster, David Baddiel. Full sessions are available now on our YouTube channel.