Brands need ‘social purpose’ to succeed

The world’s top marketers believe having a social purpose is increasingly important to a brand’s success, according to research released today (7 March) by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and Edelman.

Charity giving

Eight in 10 (83 per cent) senior global marketers agree or strongly agree it is important for a brand to have a sense of purpose, with 81 per cent agreeing having a social purpose opens up business opportunities.

Despite this, just under half of marketers (49 per cent) could agree or strongly agree the brands they work for currently have a sense of purpose, with just 38 per cent feeling they had been successful in effectively communicating purpose to consumers and their organisation.

Purpose must be a “top down” process, with 80 per cent of marketers agreeing the CEO – and three quarters (74 per cent) saying the CMO – should be involved in designing and shaping the purpose for the company. The marketers surveyed also believe purpose should have buy-in from all from all business functions, although only half (53 per cent) think all employees should be involved.

The majority (69 per cent) of marketers agree purpose also needs to be shaped through the involvement of people outside of the organisation, including customers and the supply chain. The same amount (69 per cent) think social media is essential to engaging people with brand purpose and to help shape it as part of an ongoing dialogue.

Marketers and consumers generally agree purpose can be defined as creating programmes to positively impact the community, protecting and improving the environment and ethical business activities, the report found. Furthermore, Edelman’s report also identified other emerging purpose-led business opportunities around “listening to and acting upon customer needs and feedback” and implementing employee welfare programmes.

In spite of a growing trend towards becoming purposeful brands, marketers appear to be underestimating the consumer acceptance of corporate involvement in causes. More than three quarters (76 per cent) of consumers said it was acceptable for brands to support good causes and make profit at the same time, while marketers thought it would be far lower (56 per cent).

The biggest gap was between marketers’ perceptions of how motivated consumers in different regions are by brands that act with social purpose. The majority of marketers believed the continent with the greatest proportion of consumers who make purchase decisions based on good causes would be Europe, but Edelman’s consuemr research found consumers in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, UAE and Brazil are most bullish on purpose.

Marketers voted Unilever as their “purpose leader” out of the Ad Age top 20 global marketers 2012 list, with 23 per cent of the collective vote. Coca-Cola and P&G were tied in second place with 16 per cent and McDonald’s with 11 per cent.

The results of the report were compiled from a WFA survey of 149 senior marketers with a combined advertising budget of more than $70bn and Edelman’s annual “good purpose” survey.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here