The Rundown: When brand purpose looks like propaganda

Brand purpose has finally escaped the office of the CMO, where for the last year or so, it’s become the rallying cry around which the industry has coalesced. A group of company CEOs, who together form a non-profit consortium called the Business Roundtable, made it happen this week with a new open letter on the “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.” The declaration essentially says that companies are now responsible for delivering value to stakeholders beyond shareholders, which include communities, a company’s customers, its employees and its vendors. This is considered important because traditional business theories generally say that the only purpose of a corporation — and, therefore, of a person running it — is to ensure profitability. For those of us who cover brands and marketing for a living, this is more of a marketing message rather than, as many seem to think, some kind of major departure from the stated raison d’etre of companies. 

For marketers, “purpose” is what should apparently drive every brand. And because there is a trust crisis — consumers no longer feel the way they felt about technology, about privacy or even about their government — corporations have stepped in many places to offer a modicum of conscience. That’s what’s led to the rise, for example, of many direct-to-consumer companies that put “purpose” at the center of their existence, from supply chains that do good to a waste-not philosophy that includes recycling. 

At a time of commoditization, it makes sense that purpose is being used as a differentiator. At a brand marketing summit recently hosted by Digiday, attendees all agreed that the key is for them to show that they’re making a net gain for society by being part of it. Without that, they’re doomed. But as always, the key is how far this will go beyond marketing claptrap. After all, there’s enough research being bandied about on how people will buy more from companies with a purpose. Enough, at least, to make a public proclamation necessary, especially when combined with anti-corporation election-year rhetoric. But when put that way, it’s hard to see grandiose statements as little more than marketing propaganda. — Shareen Pathak

The renaissance of OOH?
Brands like Spotify and Casper have made a splash in recent years with colorful and witty out-of-home campaigns. For newer direct-to-consumer brands, using OOH, especially on the subway, has become part of the playbook to quickly get consumers’ attention when they launch. But even with the increased attention on OOH from DTC brands, the resurgence may truly come into focus this year.

On Wednesday, the Out-of-Home Advertising Association of America reported its highest quarterly growth since 2007, with OOH advertising revenue up 7.7% year over year to $2.69 billion in the second quarter. While that growth is coming from a variety of OOH placements — like billboards, street furniture, transit placements and more — the highest increase, 31%, came from digital OOH. That digital growth could be thanks to the growing ease of buying digital OOH programmatically. As previously reported by Digiday, demand-side and supply-side platforms have recognized the potential of digital OOH. The potential of digital OOH to make it easier for brands to pop up with OOH placements everywhere much easier than it has been before — like Kylie Jenner did with the debut of her Kylie Skin brand — could see the category grow even more. That could account for why marketers, per an eMarketer report from earlier this year, are growing their spend in OOH more than their spend on traditional TV. — Kristina Monllos

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