Claire Blunt
Dec 1, 2021

The purpose debate is raging but the value of context has been overlooked

Placement of advertising matters more than ever, The Guardian's ad chief says.

The purpose debate is raging but the value of context has been overlooked

The temperature of the debate about brand purpose has risen in recent weeks, with Peter Field’s plea for an end to the “vitriolic criticism” of purpose marketing resulting in yet more criticism of the methods he used to reach his conclusion.

His finding that well-executed purpose campaigns are more effective on a number of key business measures is hardly surprising.

At The Guardian – a purposeful media company for 200 years – we’ve been reflecting on all this: what does being a purpose brand actually mean? What impact does it have on our readers? And, most importantly (as you would imagine), does it matter where you advertise?

We commissioned some global research with Ipsos MORI across the UK, US and Australia to get a real insight into what people really think about purpose and brands, and we found that brand purpose worked much like any other kind of brand attribute. It can be a powerful differentiator, but it doesn’t come at the expense of more pragmatic considerations such as price, availability and convenience.

And just like any other kind of brand value, success in purpose advertising lies in authenticity – brand purpose is about ‘giving back’ in a way that is authentic to the brand. If you’re Dove or Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s or The Guardian, prime examples of purpose brands, your purpose is part of your business and part of your brand. Just as comedy is part of Fosters’ brand or action is part of Nike’s.

Everyone wants to see businesses have a more positive impact on society and it follows that some of those businesses will want to use their advertising budgets to tell other people about the good work they are doing. It’s not unusual for brands to want to capture the zeitgeist, so it follows that as people become more socially and environmentally conscious, advertisers want to reflect that change in culture.

But the debate about the message itself has all but encompassed another equally important part of the purpose marketing story – the context of that message has been lost in this debate entirely.

Where are purpose brands spending their media budget?

It’s one thing creating a campaign about the importance of looking after your mental health or the fight for social equality, it’s quite another to direct the budget for propagating that message into a social media feed where it could end up alongside harmful content or disinformation.

Our global research found that the placement of the media has as much of an impact on whether the brand is seen as purposeful or not as the message itself.

We tested 180 combinations of purpose and non-purpose ads, advertisers and media platforms and found that when a brand was seen as more purposeful and authentic, 58% of the uplift was driven by the media it was seen in, with 14% being affected by the creative and 28% by the brand itself.

Simply put, people notice where brands advertise and the media they choose to support.

First and foremost it should prove its effectiveness to deliver advertiser objectives, but a secondary consideration should surely be to think about its impact on the world – what are you actually funding? What media are you choosing to keep alive? What does it say about your brand?

If you are a brand that has an authentic purpose at your core, where you advertise should be an extension of that purpose. Not least because it’s part of your supply chain. So if you are going to think about your business having an impact on the world, spending money with ‘good media’ is an important part of that.

At The Guardian we fervently believe that it’s vital to fund quality journalism, perhaps now more than ever. Journalism matters and it relies on support from our advertisers to thrive and build on the success we have had with our unique reader revenue model.

The news industry has proven that we can drive strong and impactful results for advertisers and we can also show that brands who advertise with us are seen as more purposeful. Brand purpose matters, but remember, it's as much about being purposeful about where your campaign runs as the message you are trying to convey.

In short, the medium is as important as the message.

Claire Blunt is chief advertising officer and CEO, international of Guardian Media Group and is a speaker at the Purpose Summit, hosted by Campaign and PR Week, on 1 December

Campaign UK

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