The Role of Purpose in Advertising

Our client partners at BSR, a global nonprofit organization working with more than 250 member companies to build a just and sustainable world, have released a report with Participant Media, Transparency, Purpose and the Empowered Consumer: A New Paradigm for Advertising.

It examines a central question: can advertising linked to corporate social responsibility (CSR) deepen engagement with consumers?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Content centered on CSR can build trust and affinity, provided that it is truthful and accurate, empowers consumer expression and dialogue, and is purposeful.

In fact, as the report documents, there’s been an encouraging trend of major brands putting purpose at the center of their advertising. It’s a demonstration of how CSR is bringing purpose and profits closer together. This spans industries and includes:

Patagonia’s Responsible Economy campaign, including a memorable Black Friday ad in The New York Times with the headline “Don’t Buy this Jacket”

Chipotle’s Scarecrow ad on sustainable farming

Unilever’s (client) “Why bring a child into this world” short film, launching Project Sunlight, a campaign to engage consumers in living a more sustainable life, as part of the company’s Sustainable Living Plan

The BSR report is timely, given the recent heightened attention to corporate engagement on social issues, from companies like Apple, Salesforce and Nike (client) taking forceful stands on the issue of LGBT equality in Indiana; to Starbuck’s effort, Race Together, addressing the complex issue of race in America.

Increasingly, companies see engagement on critical social issues as a business imperative (no longer a nice-to-do), in order to advance their business interests and to bring their expertise and scale to tackle social problems. It’s encouraging that there is a rise in advertising that reflects CSR as a strategic business priority. It increases the likelihood that consumers will know more about which companies are contributing to both economic and social progress and reward them with their business and loyalty.

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