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Ask Keith Weed: what is the role of brand purpose during a global crisis?

Each week, revered marketer and president of the Advertising Association Keith Weed, and one of the headline speakers at The Drum's Can-Do Festival, will take questions from marketers around the world, using his experience to help solve their problems.

Tom Roach, executive strategy director, Adam & Eve/DDB: Lots of brands are discovering the importance of being helpful and supportive for their customers in this crisis, in ways that are consistent with their existing, core role in people’s lives. Many other brands, meanwhile, have talked a good game about being ‘purposeful’ in the past but seem rather less able to play a strong role in society right now. Does this mean that brand purpose is now a lot less useful as a business and marketing concept and that it needs to change significantly? Or is it still completely fit for, er, purpose?

Keith Weed: Tom, I think it’s great that brands have stepped up. We are seeing fantastic examples of ways they can be helpful and supportive to their customers and to society more generally. I hope this will continue long after this crisis has passed. We started the year with a new mission, to bring about increased responsibility in advertising and to think more about its impact on people, society, businesses and the economy. Whatever you think of Covid-19, this crisis has made our new mission more ‘real’ than ever. 

You mention brands are doing this in ways that are consistent with their existing core role in people’s lives – this is, I believe, critical for successful purposeful brands. You need both the ‘brand say’ (the advertising) and the ‘brand do’ (the action and activity) to be absolutely in line with the purpose of your brand. If you do that, it makes good sense for everyone. 

I’m not sure which brands you refer to who were doing purposeful work before and are finding it more challenging now, but I would suggest they either did not have a purpose that worked well with the role of their brand or indeed maybe their purpose or brand is less relevant for the current times. The one thing brands mustn’t do is force fit themselves into people’s lives right now; the situation is far too serious for that. However, they can support and, I would suggest, remember that the best ads often entertain and provide people with content they enjoy.

Everyone needs light relief from the world outside right now. So I agree with your second point – having a purpose has never been so important and there are some brilliant examples of brands making marketing noble again. Long may that continue!

Watch Weed's discussion around the role of marketing during the global pandemic and other issues in his interview as part of The Drum's Can Do Festival. 

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