Some brand experts believe in it wholeheartedly, some think it’s another marketing fad, but one thing is certain – purpose-driven branding is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Although the link between brand purpose and sales or profit hasn’t been established yet (despite some high-profile publications claiming otherwise), the most brand-centric organizations in the world have invested significant resources in applying the concept to their business. Many global corporations have repositioned their brands to make them more purpose-driven, even despite the fact that they have been successful without any higher purpose.
The company that is primarily associated with purpose-driven marketing is Unilever. However, in today’s post we want to take a look at how its major competitor, another FMCG giant, Procter & Gamble (P&G) approaches this topic.
P&G’s mission revolves around the idea of “irresistible superiority” and, to a high degree, is based on the promise of delivering high-quality products. In recent years, despite this product-driven approach, the company has repositioned some of its consumer brands to make them more purposeful. Always, Pantene and Olay are three examples.
Always’ brand strategy for many years has been about “embracing womanhood positively—from the very beginning of puberty through their adult lives”. However, the emotional benefit of boosting girls’ confidence was more rooted in the nature of the product and its functional benefits (mostly its absorbent qualities) rather than in a bigger brand purpose.
This changed in 2014, when Always’ positioning was brought to life in a more meaningful way through an award winning “Like a Girl” campaign. The campaign’s objective was to show via a recorded social experiment how differently girls pre- and post-puberty interpret the expression “like a girl” and how the perception of this phrase becomes more negative with girls’ age.
Always has become to Procter & Gamble what Dove is to Unilever – the strongest female empowerment brand in the portfolio on a mission to boost girls’ and women’s confidence. However, while Dove focuses on making women feel confident in their own skin regardless of their shape, colour or age, Always’ messaging is not limited to body confidence; it’s more about being who you want to be and not letting anything, and in particular the fact that you are a girl, stand in your way.
Although Pantene’s positioning at functional level hasn’t changed much since the 1980s, the emotional benefits communicated by the brand have evolved. In the 1980s, Pantene’s brand promise revolved primarily around the feeling of beauty and self-confidence. In the 1990s, the brand placed a stronger emphasis on the “health” (“Hair so healthy it shines”). In the 2000s, Pantene explored what impact strong and healthy-looking hair has on women’s self-esteem. In the 2010s, it repositioned itself as a purpose-driven brand standing for strength and the empowerment of women and LGBTQ+ individuals.
The current Pantene’s purpose-driven approach was initiated in 2013, when the brand launched a video (originally intended for the Philippine market) demonstrating how the same behaviours of men and women can be perceived entirely differently (e.g., men perceived as “persuasive” and women as “pushy”). It was later followed by the “Sorry, not sorry” campaign showing how women apologize for the things they shouldn’t feel apologetic about. The objective of these brand activations was to empower women to feel stronger and more self-confident (“Shine strong”). Since then, Pantene has run a number of initiatives going beyond traditional product advertising ranging from encouraging people to have a great hair day to empowering women to feel good regardless of the type and colour of hair they have and supporting LGBTQ+ people by enabling them to “express their authentic selves”.
Olay’s core product proposition resembles that of L’Oréal (“science of beauty”) and is defined as “the science of ageless beauty”. However, even though science, research, innovation and technology play a crucial role in Olay’s brand strategy (“transforming skin starts with understanding skin”), a much stronger emphasis is placed on the notion of “agelessness”. The concept of ageless beauty stems from the belief that women are no longer defined by their real age and with the right lifestyle and skincare choices, they can look “ageless” (probably meaning younger than they really are).
In 2018, Olay introduced changes to its positioning and altered its brand essence from “transformation that leaves skin beautifully ageless” to a more purpose-driven statement: “encouraging every woman to live fearlessly, starting with skin that’s ready to face anything”.
In line with this new approach, the brand launched a new campaign with the objective to empower women to be themselves and ignore people who judge them as “too strong”, “too outspoken”, “too ambitious” or on the contrary, “too emotional” or “too vulnerable”.
Always, Pantene and Olay are three brands which P&G has repositioned to make them more purpose-driven, placing a stronger emphasis on communication designed to boost women’s confidence rather than focusing purely on promising great looks.
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