Of all the communication disciplines that I know, advertising is the only one that forces its author to remain anonymous. It is different from the journalist who despite working for a media, signs the news with his name and surname. Or the film director. Or the writer or the poet, the painter or the musician. But with regards to public opinion, our creations – those of the communication professionals – are signed by a brand. The publicist is therefore naturally irrelevant.
This has consequences in the advertising world. A sector that if characterized by something it is by its continuous tendency to invent words and concepts that are empty of content but formally and phonetically very attractive; tending more to appearance than to being, to the fight of egos, and to the tacit acceptance, by both parties, of working for free when you are a trainee… All these behaviors have in common the search for relevance that the profession lacks in itself.
In this continuous search for the creation of relevance, the last thing that is said is that brands must have a purpose, a reason to exist. This is nothing new, as we have been hearing it for years. However, the context of the pandemic has put it back on the table, since “brands that are not social will not be” (read on Linkedin).
In Branzai they explain very well what a Brand purpose would be without frills or smoke sales:
As it is nonsense to rewrite something that is already well written, in this text we will use the fad of brand purpose to talk about
- How badly we have done things so far as a society.
- Advertising as a Bullshit job that searches for its own meaning within its own world.
- The implicit hypocrisy in which companies without a purpose (agencies) encourage others (clients) to have one.
1) How badly we have done things so far as a society
Accepting that brands should have a purpose and that this must guide their social behaviour is to give a strategic and differential value to such a basic thing as it is to act according to particular ethic and moral values.
It would mean that until now, those values haven’t existed. As a recommendation if you are a brand and you weren’t already born with a social purpose, you’d better don’t make up one to be fashionable as it may well be counterproductive. Can you imagine Volkswagen after the Diesel Gate saying that they are committed to the environment? Indeed.
2) Advertising as a Bullshit job that searches for its own meaning within its own world.
In short, a Bullshit job is that –although well paid– makes its workers feel that their work is useless and is totally meaningless. It is a concept coined in 2018 by the anthropologist David Graeber.
To be honest, although communication professionals are undoubtedly very valid for society, today’s advertising as we know it makes one lose the sense of the profession. In 90% of cases we don’t own the brands and clients end up doing with them whatever they want. I am convinced that if brands paid more attention to agencies, we would have a much more meaningful advertising. But I do not think that it is the current scenario.
On the other hand, there is a very important gap between what is studied in the university and what is later done at an agency most of the time, which generates frustration, especially in those who are just starting. Advertising isn’t what it was. Our time is not filled with campaigns and briefings. The digital world has brought the ultra-specialization and scientification of the discipline, making the little time we have left for thoughtful and creative work a luxury reserved for a few.
Thus, it is normal to spend a whole day writing emails, making flows, and countless nonsense things that won’t become part of a campaign on the street, (which is really what the publicist seeks) and at the end of the day you wonder if your work makes sense.
In this sense, are brands who should have a purpose or it is us advertisers who want to work for brands with a purpose because this would turn into giving a purpose to what we do?
3) The implicit hypocrisy in which companies without a purpose (agencies) encourage others (clients) to have one.
This last point follows the above one. What is the purpose of an advertising agency? Do agencies have a purpose?
They don’t have it. We can see some statements of acceptance of diversity or as a worker you can individually have the right to refuse to work for a client whose activity for you is against your standards, but this also has its risks.
So, in conclusion, the purpose of an agency is to advertise, just as Nike’s is to make good athletic clothes and shoes.. And that this is done without harming the planet or ensuring human rights shouldn’t be something rewarding but punishable.
As we said on one occasion, there are many ways to take social responsibility with your customers. Just as there are many ways to be a caring citizen, it is not necessary to pretend to change the world, it is enough with trying to have a positive impact on your immediate surroundings.
The purpose of the brand is a kind of free coaching that is done from marketing to corporations., with which they are encouraged to find a reason to exist, the meaning of their existence. Because according to what they tell us, certain audiences are now more demanding than previous generations and it is not enough to offer a good product.
Why is this happening?
In post postmodernity, in which we find ourselves immersed (here we explain what it is about), there are no meta-stories, that is, homogenizing discourses that define and shape society. There is no homogenizing concept of family, not a single way of experiencing sexuality, or of accessing the labor market. Even the validity of a university degree is questioned and we live in a disenchanted society in which there are no longer any myths. And you like it or not, as human beings we need myths to live.
Faced with social fragmentation and the lack of myths, each individual seeks its own. And usually the means of achieving this is through consumption. Even the most natural way to achieve wholeness and vital balance has been addressed by brands and now they call it mindfulness. And with the objective of individually recovering what we have lost as a society, brands with purpose emerge. This is how the void created by the lack of meta-stories is filled. The purpose of the brand is the meta-story of the 21st century, which instead of descending from the Vatican or from our parents, descends from the brands or from an influencer.
What do we do?
According to our society humanities and social sciences lack a utilitarian purpose. Compared to other disciplines and in the labor market in which we operate, they hardly “serve” to find work or to earn money. But they fulfill those who immerse themselves in them. They are meaningful.
It would be great if the arts and humanities were hugely beneficial to the world, because they tend to be personally satisfying.
Southan R, 2014, ‘Is it ok to make art?’ Recovered from AEON:https://aeon.co/essays/art-is-a-waste-of-time-or-so-effective-altruism-claims
At the same time, advertising, branding and marketing aren’t enormously beneficial to the world. They do not eradicate poverty, they do not recover forests, they do not end racism, but they are personally satisfying.
We must differentiate between what the brand purpose gives to us, as marketers, and what it gives to the world. The world doesn’t care about who fixes the world. What the world cares about is getting it fixed. As soon as we talk about brand purpose this becomes one more element of market competition. So those who speak of purpose no longer care so much about fixing the world as about who fixes it. So purpose is ceasing to be something natural and authentic, losing its credibility. The perfect morale that brands now seek is not their own initiative, it is a reaction to social pressure.
If you discovered that someone else had independently come up with a project idea that you’d also had, but they produced and distributed their work first, would you be upset? Or would you be thrilled that this vitally important stuff was out there, altering perspectives and making everything better in a real, quantifiable way – even though it wouldn’t increase your social status?
Southan R, 2014
As advertisers, let’s get back to giving advertising a purely advertising purpose. That is not little … To focus on the beauty of what we do, on the aesthetics of a message, on simply doing something beautiful that contributes to the landscape without disturbing, leaving aside this false and dangerous utilitarianism.
As the decadents would say: Ads for the Ads ’Sake.
On the author:
Vicente Gallego is Publicist and Head of strategy. He also studies social and cultural anthropology, a discipline that he considers increasingly necessary and that gives meaning to the experience gained during his professional career.