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A Vision of Prosperity: Bringing Purpose and Profit Together in a New Way of Thinking About Effectiveness

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Wunderman Thompson UK's planning director Jo Weston on the importance of effectiveness and bringing purpose and profit together

A Vision of Prosperity: Bringing Purpose and Profit Together in a New Way of Thinking About Effectiveness

Jo Weston is a planning director at Wunderman Thompson UK, working across their Avon & HSBC accounts.

In her 13-year career, she’s worked on everything from FMCG to travel & hospitality, fashion, beauty, retail and luxury. She loves how cultural insight can fuel creativity to solve big business problems and how creative brand thinking can be applied to every facet of a brand’s experience.

She’s on the WT Rethink team and as a previous environmental activist, has a keen interest in all thing’s sustainability.  She loves to travel so offsets her environmental guilt as a dedicated vegetarian. 

Like it or not, we’re living in the age of purpose. Once regarded as a marketing gimmick and a bandwagon, it’s a now a movement gathering pace with each year that passes.  Poverty, inequality, war, political instability, the breakdown of ecosystems and existential threat to all life on Earth. These are enormous, complex and interlinked challenges we’re all facing, and they’re not going away. So it’s no surprise at all there’s greater and greater pressure for brands to be part of the solution and to do their bit to help us all feel less helpless in the face of the value-action gap.

The latest announcement regarding a revised judging criteria for the IPA Effectiveness Awards, which refocuses the primary award criteria as the ‘Value Contribution’ of a campaign or activity: “How impressive is the financial, social and/or environmental contribution of the activity to the business”, is therefore something to be lauded. It brings the awards in step with an industry fast moving towards a new model of what makes successful marketing.  However, I would argue, it doesn’t go far enough.

I’m a big fan of brands helping make the world a better place. I’m also a believer that, as one of the highest accolades, the IPA Effectiveness Awards is the most powerful body of knowledge we have when it comes to convincing not just CMOs, but CFOs, that certain types of advertising and communications are worth the investment. That they bring generous returns and are not just a cost for doing business.

For awards with such a reputation for rigour, the term ‘value contribution’ is oddly opaque to me, and risks decoupling commercial value from value to society and the planet. Can companies really be expected to invest in work that only benefits them socially or environmentally? We’ve massively missed a trick here, in my view, to lead the debate and build the case for the type of value we create for businesses. 

Marketing is an amazing force. It has the ability to reimagine business models and fix broken systems to generate growth for ambitious brands.  It can reinvent products and services that are better quality, circular and lower carbon. It’s capable of generating new types of demand and consumer behaviours, whilst shifting us away from stubborn old habits. Communications have a key role to play as a means of achieving these aims. Think about how brands like Oatly have created a global market for plant-based milk.  Projected to be worth $2.2 billion by 2026, according to the Guardian, one in three Brits now consumes plant-based milk, something that would have been almost unfathomable five years ago. A compelling case that what is good for society and the planet, can be good for a company’s bottom line. 

Campaigns that champion ethical, sustainable initiatives or responsible product use, have the capacity to contribute to waste reduction, achieve diversity targets quicker, as well as recruiting and retaining talent for longer – all of which has both a societal and commercial benefit. And the trust that we build for brands as a result, can enable them to ride out a crisis better or bounce back faster once it's over.  

Brands needn’t be inherently sustainable or good for society from their inception, but I do believe communications do need to be underpinned by meaningful action if a brand is to hit the sweet spot of business effects and contributing to the wider social good. Take Wunderman Thompson’s Homeless Bank Account campaign for HSBC for instance, where the bank partnered with Shelter to offer bank accounts to people with no fixed address in the UK. The campaign, which brought home two gold trophies from Cannes last year, highlighted the vicious cycle that people often fall into when they become homeless. To date, HSBC have seen a 52% uptake of no fixed address accounts, and the donations generated from the campaign have helped Shelter get over 100 people off the streets. Not only that but the campaign has contributed to positive growth in brand associations, with significantly more people agreeing that the bank supports the community and cares about their customers.

As marketeers, we have the power to shape businesses that are fit for the future we all want to see. So, noble as the new IPA judging criteria is, the ambition falls short.  Particularly in a world where social and environmental concerns are increasingly placed at the very heart of business operations. We need to think bigger and expand our understanding of what makes a healthy, thriving company, and how communications can contribute. One in which purpose and profit are part of the same vision. We can do this by reframing the conversation around prosperity.  

Prosperity is a notion that encompasses not just economic wellness, but many other dimensions of what makes a company strong. It includes profit, and shareholder return.  Indeed a company must be profitable to be prosperous. But prosperity is broader than financial wellness alone and can include any, or all other dimensions of wellness including environmental, social, physical and occupational. Prosperity includes employee health and happiness, equitable and sustainable supply chains, efforts to advance equality, and inclusive products and services that contribute to flourishing ecosystems. The idea of prosperity, offers a one-time opportunity to challenge the age old theory that a company’s only responsibility is to maximise returns for shareholders. And with it, lead the way to a bigger vision of the kind of world we want to live in and leave behind.  

So here’s to building (and measuring) a more prosperous future for people, for planet and of course, for our brands.

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Wunderman Thompson London, Thu, 31 Mar 2022 08:45:30 GMT