Oatly’s creative chief: You can’t strategise on purpose

Brands shouldn’t try to “construct” a purpose, says Oatly chief creative officer John Schoolcraft, adding that Oatly’s purpose comes “easy” for it.

Source: Oatly

Oatly’s chief creative officer John Schoolcraft says companies can’t be strategic with purpose.

“You can’t strategise purpose,” he said, speaking at Advertising Week Europe today (14 May). “I’ll give you an example, if you make sugary soda water that has no nutritional value, but it makes people happy and quenches thirst that is your purpose… You don’t have to try to construct something else.”

At Oatly, the purpose of shifting humans away from animal consumption towards plant alternatives is central to its mission as a producer of oat milk. Schoolcraft stated he is “lucky” to work at a brand that has an inherent mission, which is “easy to get behind” and helps to attract good people to the business.

He said Oatly looks to be “human”, rather than just being a logo on a packaging. The brand works with the belief that it has “a responsibility to create change”, he added.

For example, the company has been displaying its carbon footprint on the front of its packaging for a number of years and challenges other brands to do the same. It has run campaigns challenging the dairy industry in particular to display their carbon footprints, even offering them free advertising space if they do.

We always joke that our lawyer is also in the creative department, because we’re always getting sued, and we’re always doing what people think is wrong.

John Schoolcraft, Oatly

Schoolcraft also spoke about “fearlessness” in the brand’s approach, something that he claimed having a creative department rather than a marketing department has allowed. In March, he told Marketing Week that he “could never be a CMO”.

“We just don’t spend a lot of time doing business, you know, like marketing business,” said Schoolcraft at the time. “We streamline it and keep it simple. We spend time trying to understand people and make things for people.”

Oatly is known for its provocative approach to advertising, which often hits out at the dairy industry. This advertising is inherently purpose-driven, he said.

Oatly’s creative boss on why he could never be a CMO

“We always joke that our lawyer is also in the creative department, because we’re always getting sued, and we’re always doing what people think is wrong,” he admitted. “But every single decision we make is on the basis of what’s right for society.”

While Oatly started off as a small brand built on the mission of changing consumption patterns, it has grown significantly since then. It’s now a publicly listed company, with Blackstone among its investors.

There have been criticisms of the company’s actions from many, with the brand choosing to tackle it head-on and take ownership of the narrative. It launched FckOatly.com, a website that compiles all that criticism, from lawsuits to calls to boycott.

While there have been missteps along the way, Schoolcraft asserted that each decision has been taken with the company’s mission in mind.

Marketers should not just consider themselves responsible for the health of their brand, or growing sales, but for the world we live in, he concluded.