Purpose-first Marketing Will Save Us

Once again, digital advertising is suffering from a confidence crisis. Marc Pritchard’s shot heard ‘round the world was, “Time is up. We will no longer tolerate the ridiculous complexity of different viewability standards.” But the crisis is more than viewability. It’s also fraud and transparency, reporting, analytics, data and frequency. Then too, there are premium content, pay-walls, and “fake news.” Those of us old enough to remember the last crisis wear it as a badge of honor, courage, and resiliency that we weathered the dim days of bankruptcy, office closures, and angel mass-exodus. What will rock bottom look like this time?

The unintended consequences of this industry uncertainty will intensify competition among the ‘pilot fish’ companies feeding off Google, Facebook, and the few publishers or partnerships left fighting over the unassigned 15%. It will also send brands scrambling for safe places to spend their budgets (unless they abandon frequency caps altogether).

It seems unlikely that all the networks, SSPs, DMPs, and “fear-capitalists” sharing audiences and impressions will make it through this storm. Having done it, I assure you it won’t be very fun working through a company’s last gasp. And while my own crystal ball is cloudy, I do have an idea for brands trying to make sense of the messy state of digital: brands need to build, live, and breathe their cause. The world is changing. It’s time advertising did too.

Our new normal is that:

  • ad blocking tech adoption is growing by roughly a bazillion% year over year, especially on mobile where the most sought-after audiences spend the majority of their time.
  • sound-off video viewing has brands, publishers, and creatives in an attention show-down.
  • Consumers increasingly demand control of their ad experience.

It seems like every week we read “insights” that consumers reject advertising. “Banner blindness,” ad blocking, skip habits, etc. aren’t just annoyances to cheat with native ads or in-read formats. The almighty millennials (23% of whom adblock) are especially discerning when it comes to ads — invasive, stalkery, irrelevant ads don’t just make them roll their eyes, these ads give consumers a bad impression of the company AND the site on which the ad runs.

Brands can do more to serve their customers’ needs, by investing in doing good, embracing causes, identifying and promoting their ethos, pathos, and logos. Cause and experiential marketing that put brand money where need is will do more for bottom lines than all the display ads in the world. The big miss is that too many brands invest in a cause as a side project with little to no distribution/ promotion of this valuable association. Just this week, I’ve been impressed by two of these projects — Special K’s Strong Feeds Strong with GirlUp, and AT&T with technology developments to serve First Responders. Neither seems to be utilizing paid media to advance their message or association. I propose that showcasing and promoting the good done by companies may be the most compelling “advertising” they can make.

Much has been made about brands going “political.” But where some are simply jumping on trends hoping to ride the popularity train, others like Best Buy, DSW, Kashi, SCJohnson, Wal-mart, and Whirlpool are creating their own causes. The popularity of and loyalty toward businesses like Toms, Warby Parker, Flowers for Dreams, etc. isn’t just because they have great products, but also because they do good in the world.

My passion project is to help brands and start-ups find and advance their cause. Not only can the incredible sums of advertising dollars squandered on the wrong people at the wrong time with the wrong message be better spent on the ground impacting communities, companies who align behind their purpose will be the ones who do the most good for the longest. In the early 2000s, I clipped the quote in the image above from Fast Company that says, “People will do anything for a cause. For a job, they just work. What’s your cause?” Nearly 17 years later, I still believe this with every cell in my being.

In the swirling mess of fraud and clutter and redundancy, what do we have to lose by challenging the worn paths? People want their lives to matter… their money too. Embedding your purpose into your marketing doesn’t just make for good messaging, it makes for good business.

Be the good. Be the change. Just be cause.