Boots and Diageo on why brand purpose doesn’t have to be ‘lofty and do good’

Purpose doesn’t always have to be worthy, according to Boots’ managing director Elizabeth Fagan, who argues brands can be fun and still make a real difference.


Working for a brand with purpose is easier and more fun because it creates a framework for every decision the business takes, according to Boots’ managing director, Elizabeth Fagan.

Speaking at the latest Oystercatchers event last night (10 May) Fagan, who was appointed MD at Boots eight months ago following roles as MD of Boots International and seven years as marketing director, explained that having a purpose helps an organisation create a “movement” from the inside out.

“If you are an organisation that is led by purpose and you can get your 60,000 colleagues to believe in what you’re doing, it’s a movement in itself,” she explained.

“If you can evangelise in an inspirational way and create fun in doing so, you then do create a movement. And that’s the best way to make brands successful, to actually create a movement from within.”

Fagan explained that while Boots’ brand purpose to champion everyone’s right to feel good has remained the same since founder Jesse Boot launched the business in 1849, purpose does not always need to be “worthy”.

“The word purpose suggests it always has to be worthy. One of the brands we now own is Soap & Glory and the purpose of that brand is to make beauty care products more affordable and to be fun,” she said.

“You can create a movement [with a brand like that] because you can create a lot of fun with it. The purpose doesn’t always have to be a lofty ‘doing good’ purpose. It’s about who it’s targeting and its mission. When you start to stretch your brand a bit far you can often lose your purpose.”

This opinion was shared by Ed Pilkington, marketing and innovation director at Diageo Europe, who admitted the drinks giant had at times been guilty of stretching brand purpose in order to meet lofty ambitions.

“We have a range of brands and some are genuinely more lofty, because they come from a place where they’ve had an inspirational founder, like Johnnie Walker or Arthur Guinness,” Pilkington explained.

‘With other brands you don’t have to change the world. Bailey’s is a brand that skews female, but we suddenly pushed it too far and wanted to become a movement for females. And then we thought, let’s just take a step back and think, what is the role that Bailey’s plays?

“About 100 million people in Europe claim to love Bailey’s and why do they enjoy it? Because it’s lovely. So what does it stand for? It’s all about providing an indulgent, lovely treat.”

It is for this reason Pilkington believes brands need to first find their truth and where they play, and then work that out at a corporate and brand level.

His comments come in the same week that Heineken launched its purpose-driven ‘Open Your World’ campaign, challenging Brits to break down barriers and find common ground with others who have opposing views.

READ MORE: Heineken: Brands should be humble about the role they can play driving social change

Heineken’s approach came in for criticism from Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson, though, who accused the beer brand of sacrificing commercial profit to fit its purpose-led agenda.

Pilkington argued that for alcohol brands like Diageo there is nothing wrong with fundamentally believing there is a role for alcohol in society and then also telling a purpose-driven story, as long as it is rooted in truth.

“There has to be a truth behind purpose. Where brands go wrong on purpose, and we’ve done it a few times at Diageo, is you create some purpose that has no relevance to where the brand came from or its roots, because it plays to something you think might be right. So you’ve got to be really clear in what’s your truth, what’s it all about and root yourself in that,” he added.

Hide Comments2 Show Comments
  • Chris Arnold 13 May 2017 at 2:32 am

    Before a brand can adopt a ‘social purpose’ it needs to be trusted. There lies the challenge!
    The second challenge is getting people in marketing (agency & clients) to understand the relationship between ethics and consumerism. 90% don’t.
    Chris Arnold, author of Ethical Marketing & The New Consumer.

  • John Richard 16 May 2017 at 4:59 pm

    To truly create a brand purpose these businesses need to actively go out into the real world and show that they care about these causes, rather than creating countless fad adverts with fake values that have nothing to do with their product or core customer base. The latest example of quality brand purpose that I have seen is Virgin Media, who have been offering to refund the difference on Premier League away game tickets (priced at above £20) in the UK to encourage supporters to travel to the game in support of their team, whether they are a customer of Virgin or not, they are working to combat the unfair ticket prices that plague the top tier of sport in Britain. The fundamentals of this are simple, use the power of your brand to improve the lives of others, in a manner that is relevant to your offering, and your customers.

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