Aug 13, 2019

A Brand's Way Or The Highway, Has Brand Purpose Lost Value?

Consumers are immersed in an age of authenticity and digital transparency, where a brand purpose will not be profitable if it is disingenuous.

  • According to a study carried out by Wunderman, 84% of UK consumers are only loyal to brands who share their values.
  • Understanding how to implement a sense of brand belonging through a relevant and meaningful purpose is now a prerequisite to stay competitive amongst brands.

“Purpose is the reason why a company or brand exists, it is the underlying essence that makes a brand relevant and necessary to its customers.” Bill Theofilou, Senior Managing Director for Accenture Strategy, Advanced Customer Strategy and Competitiveness Centre of Excellence.

What is a brand purpose?

A brand purpose should be built off promise, driven by emotion, and rewarded with opportunity - these three pillars are responsible for enticing consumers, and eventually converting them to loyal followers. This concept can often be defined as, “a brand’s reason to exist beyond making money,'' it provides a real opportunity for brands to connect with their consumers over shared values.

The issue surrounding brand purpose is not a company’s lack of motivation to encompass one, it is the fact that purpose has lost meaning. Brand’s are often seen ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ when it comes to fleeting trends to remain relevant, but with an increasingly savvy demographic, this appears disingenuous.

87% of consumers would purchase a product or service because the company has advocated for an issue they share an interest in. (Cone Communications)

Another issue brands face when forming a brand purpose, despite a genuine motive, it can sometimes come across to consumers as vague. So many brands are trying to make the world a better place, inspire, or in the case of McDonald’s and Victoria’s Secret, adopt a value that their audience cares about. With all brands effectively sharing the same purpose the, effect as a result, is lost.

62% of participants in a recent survey of nearly 30,000 participants worldwide, said they want companies to take a stand on social, cultural, environmental, and political issues close to their hearts.

Companies find themselves in a digital age where transparency is at the centre, therefore to survive and thrive, they must be authentic, remain relevant, and create connections with their target demographic. All companies were found and built with a purpose in mind, but in their development, many have forgotten about their origins due to growth or a struggle to effectively evolve it. Therefore, it is safe to say that the successfully purpose-led brands are those that view their customers as more than just buyers, but instead, as active stakeholders who invest their money and time into brands they are passionate about.

“Purpose sits firmly at the centre of a brand’s vision and informs every business decision. A brand must solve a problem or meet a need. How well it does that, and how well it creates loyalty, affinity and connections with its customers determines the winners from the losers.” Bill Theofilou, Senior Managing Director for Accenture Strategy, Advanced Customer Strategy and Competitiveness Center of Excellence


What happened?

Victoria’s Secret, the American lingerie giant, has recently made history while igniting conversation after hiring their first openly transgender Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio, aged 22. This news came to light after VS announced that their televised show would be cancelled this year due to an all-time low in viewings last year. 

In that same year, Ed Razek, Chief Marketing Officer, was interviewed regarding the participation of transgender models, answering,

“No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”


Razek apologised for his comment but quit his position soon after Sampaio was hired. Les Wexner, L Brands (parent company to VS) chief executive comments,

“There are few with Ed’s passion and talent in this industry, but I have faith in our incredible teams, talent and product, and I look forward to the future as we grow and change.”

What’s the problem?

In the past couple of years, VS has seen falling sales, shops closing, and increasing competition from start-ups and other retailers. They are struggling to find their place in a market where diversity and authenticity are more valuable to consumers than a very sexualised brand image.

Comments made by retired Angel, Karlie Kloss, have not helped the brand image when she responded to Razek in an interview with Vogue:

“I didn’t feel [Victoria’s Secret] was an image that was truly reflective of who I am and the kind of message I want to send to young women around the world about what it means to be beautiful.”

After leaving VS, Kloss enrolled at NYU to study feminist theory to develop her understanding of the values she felt VS did not share, however upon reflection she later comments that during the era of the #MeToo movement, the VS show is, 

“so relevant in the world we live today [...] There’s something really powerful about a woman who owns her sexuality and is in charge”.

Therefore, despite conversation that labels the hiring of Sampaio as cynical on the brand’s part and lacking genuine authenticity, the brand appears to be taking active steps towards inclusivity and adapting their brand purpose towards transparency and authenticity.


What happened?

Last year McDonald’s made the move to remove their use of plastic straws which were recyclable, in exchange for paper straws, to form part of a green drive in the UK and Republic of Ireland. However, much to their consumers’ dismay, these paper straws are not easy to recycle and instead, should be disposed of into general waste.

McDonald’s claims that the materials used to make these paper straws are recyclable but unfortunately due to their thickness, processing them is challenging. After the effort the brand made to include themselves in the current conversation surrounding environmental concern, and share their consumers’ values, customers were left deeply unhappy with the new straws as they dissolve before any drink is finished and are not yet fully recyclable.

Paul Pomroy, the chief executive of McDonald’s UK and Ireland comments, 

“reflecting the broader public debate, our customers told us they wanted to see a move on straws but to do so without compromising their overall experience when visiting our restaurants.”

What’s the problem?

McDonald’s uses 1.8 million straws a day in the UK alone and as 62% of consumers are attracted to companies that believe in plastic reduction and helping the environment, eliminating plastic straws was an obvious move for the brand.

A McDonald’s spokesman comments,

“As a result of customer feedback, we have strengthened our paper straws, so while the materials are recyclable, their current thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed by our waste solution providers, who also help us recycle our paper cups.”

Despite the outrage from their consumers regarding their paper straws, it is evident that McDonald’s are listening to their customer base and using this to drive their brand purpose

The company adds, 

“This waste from our restaurants does not go to the landfill, but is used to generate energy.”

The brand claims their paper straws will be completely recyclable in all shops by the end of 2019, so while their current environmental efforts appear generally authentic, if they fail to achieve this goal, the brand risks appearing disingenuous to consumers.

Despite concern that McDonald’s are simply greenwashing, the reality is not quite this extreme, McDonald’s, like so many brands, are attempting to align their brand purpose with developing environmental concerns and are simply guilty of providing their consumers with mixed messages. 

Michael Gove, Environment Secretary congratulates McDonald’s “on making this significant contribution to help our natural environment. We have a responsibility to our environment and this simple yet effective initiative is a fine example to other large businesses. McDonald’s has made a significant investment in UK manufacturing to produce an alternative to plastic, showing British businesses are taking a global lead. We want more companies to say no to unnecessary single-use plastic.”