What do consumers think about Brand Purpose?

13/05/2021 By James Myring

Brand Purpose – the reason for a brand to exist beyond making money – has become a hot topic.

Many brands now include topics such as race, gender, sexuality and the environment in their communications, subjects that they might have avoided only a few years ago.

However relatively little research has been done into whether consumers actually support this type of messaging in advertising. In November 2020 we conducted research amongst a nationally representative sample of 1,000 consumers to examine it in more detail. We focused on whether consumers welcome or oppose the inclusion of messaging on race, gender, sexuality and the environment in brand advertising and communications.

Though there is significant support for the inclusion of messaging on race, gender and sexuality, in no case is there a simple majority in support.

Reactions to brands incorporating messaging on race, gender and sexuality in their advertising


Some interesting themes emerged when we asked people for the reasons behind their answers:

1) Some who welcome this kind of messaging, nevertheless express caveats – a number felt that brands were jumping on a bandwagon.
2) A proportion of the large number with ‘no opinion’ on the subject seem to be more negative when asked why they have no opinion.
3) Those who welcomed the messaging on average wrote a total of 11 words each when asked why. Those opposing averaged twice as many (22) words, which is indicative of more strongly felt opinions amongst those opposed. There were quite a number who said they felt this kind of content was divisive.

Demographics are a strong predictor of attitude to Brand Purpose

For all three of these themes, support is higher amongst the young (especially under 35s), heavy consumers of social media and Labour/ Lib Dem/ Green voters. There is also slightly more support among women and those living in SE England.

AB social grades, higher income groups and Londoners are more likely to welcome the inclusion of messaging on race, though there is less difference for gender and sexuality. Minority ethnic groups are a little more likely than the total population to welcome the inclusion of race, but a little less likely to support gender and sexuality.

This also means that (especially) older age groups, Conservative/ Brexit voters, and to a lesser extent those outside London/ SE England are more likely to oppose this kind of messaging. It is also worth noting that those in the C2 social grade are also especially likely to be in opposition. Support is also lower amongst heavy consumers of live/ recorded TV and main shoppers.


However, support for the inclusion of messaging on the environment is much higher


There is much less distinction by demographics here. Even differences by political support are muted. This almost seems to be something approaching a consensus issue, where majority support exists across all demographics. There were a number of comments about the environment being seen as a non-divisive issue that affects everybody.


What does this mean for brands?

1. Do your research on your audience

In June 2020 Mediatel ran an article on a research study called The Aspiration Window produced by the publisher Reach Solutions.

The study highlighted how advertising professionals are very different from the general population, and how this can result in a lack of understanding of mainstream audiences.

Our research shows that the demographic groups that are dominant amongst advertising professionals (London/ SE, ABs, under 45s) are broadly more supportive of Brand Purpose messaging than the population as a whole.

If those making decisions on brands’ advertising strategies are drawn from a demographically (and attitudinally) relatively narrow group it increases the risk of decisions being influenced by ‘Groupthink’, whereby a desire for conformity within a group results in an over-inflated sense of certainty that the correct decision has been made.

Given the differences in demographics and mindset between advertising professionals and the wider population, research is important to gauge both the popularity of the proposed ‘purpose’ AND whether consumers feel it is appropriate for it to be co-opted by your brand. There were comments from respondents who whilst broadly supportive of the cause in question just did not feel it was an appropriate issue for brands to be involved in.

If this research is not conducted, then there is a danger that ‘Brand Purpose’ messaging does not properly consider large groups such as those below:
• Older age groups
• Those who live outside of London/ South East
• C2DEs – especially Skilled manual workers
• Brexit supporters / Conservative voters

2. Consider the opportunity cost

The opportunity cost of incorporating Brand Purpose messaging into brand advertising and communications must also be considered.

Recent brand thinking has highlighted the importance of growing brands by appealing to a broad audience of all potential category buyers. Budget spent on Brand Purpose could have gone into other messaging (e.g. product features, humour).

A danger for brands is that they are spending a lot of time on messaging that does not play a significant role in purchasing decisions. The research by Reach Solutions shows that neither the mainstream audience nor industry professionals think it is a key factor on purchase decision making:

“Only 9% of the mainstream consider a brand’s political stance and affiliations to play a role in purchasing decisions versus 13% of industry professionals”

Figures for the brand’s position on social issues are similarly low (10% and 21% respectively).

The traditional attributes of value for money, reliability and product / service quality remain the most important. For more details please see the Aspiration Window report.

3. There is strong and consistent support for environmental messaging

Support for the inclusion of environmental messaging is remarkably consistent across varied demographics – in fact, the over 55s are even more supportive than younger age groups, if only by a small margin).

4. Take care over implementation

Finally, if Brand Purpose messaging is to be incorporated into brand advertising it is important that it is done in an appropriate way.

Consumers were able to cite examples of brands where they felt that this type of messaging had been incorporated into advertisements in a congruent way (Dove was repeatedly mentioned), but also a number of examples where it felt clumsy/ forced or that the brand was jumping on a bandwagon (a word that was frequently used) or insincere in its support.

If implementation is done poorly, even those who support the ‘purpose’ can be turned off.

Our full findings on Brand Purpose will soon be made available for free to ClearSight subscribers. Not subscribed? Make sure you are here: https://hcontent.bva-bdrc.com/clearsight