We came across an interesting exchange around Purpose between the domains of Advertising and CSR. An article in AdAge (take a look, the comments section is especially interesting) focused on Procter & Gamble's recent struggles and turmoil, which has coincided with (or happened despite?) its leadership's insistence on organizing their business around a Purpose. Given this set of facts, the author suggests that perhaps the "era of the Purpose-driven ads is over." He points out that lately, P&G leadership has changed its tone, which leads the author to suggest that they've given up on Purpose, and are going back to focusing on what in his view are the true activities of business - planning, strategy, and action. Or, in other words, productivity.

He may be right about the focus needing to remain on productivity, but otherwise he seems to have missed the point, which is ironic given the last paragraph of his article.

That concluding paragraph centers on a quote by the CMO of Mastercard Worldwide that says, "Brands are like humans. You can see quickly if they're faking it." And Purpose-driven advertising is "faking it" if that Purpose does not ring true in the actions and intentions of the company or if the Purpose is trotted out to simply sell product.

It might seem, from that quote, that the era-end described in the article should actually be the slow but sure death of fake advertising or "cause marketing" to sell more product, and not, as is the case, of Purpose as a strategic guiding and organizing feature of the successful company.

CSRWire critique in response points out, in opposition to the AdAge perspective, the relevance and importance of Purpose, with lots of facts to back it up. The recent Edelman Trust Barometer for example, and other research, as well as the suggestion that for every P&G in the midst of struggles, there are a handful of companies like IBM or Unilever that are in the midst of successfully pursuing Purpose.

We’d say that both articles point to an unmentioned new reality: authenticity is now the “coin of the realm."

If a Purpose is well-conceived AND authentic - which most of all means that it is mirrored in the Brand and Culture of the company and not just cooked up by the advertising department and pushed out as a marketing slogan - then it will drive success. This is where good leadership shows - because an internally defined, consistent, authentic Purpose for the business can only be arrived at with a lot of organizational soul-searching, a few dashes of genius, and a full measure of hard work.

The way customers measure a company’s authenticity may often be the same intuition that they experience and rely on when they meet another person who seems to be "faking it" (we all know the feeling). Beyond feel, increasingly, people will look at the Brand and company Culture as conveyed by its employees and products (or services) to determine the measure of authenticity a company lives with.

What do you think? 

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