Marketers from Molson Coors and The North Face talk brand purpose and agency relationships

At C2 Montreal, marketers from companies including Molson Coors and The North Face gathered to discuss what exactly brand purpose means in today’s world.

The conversation around brand purpose was recently reignited after Pepsi aired its now-infamous ad starring Kendall Jenner. When the ad was released, many criticized Pepsi for trivializing a serious issue in the hopes of selling more soda.

While many brands feel obligated to align themselves with a social cause or take a stance on a particular issue, doing so in a way that feels genuine and authentic to the brand isn’t easy. Christine Jakovcic, chief marketing & consumer excellence officer of Molson Coors Canada, said that this can be particularly difficult when it comes to beer marketing.

“In the very competitive and crowded beer category, it is very difficult for brands to really have meaningful purpose and a meaningful place in the hearts and minds of consumers,” she said. “One of the big things that we’ve learned is that going back to our authentic core truth of what we stand for is what’s working with consumers right now.”

Jakovcic said that Molson Canadian recently harkened back to its roots to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary this year. Since Molson has been brewing beer in Canada since before the country was even officially founded, the beer brand is celebrating the anniversary with a campaign called ‘A Taste of Who We Are’ that stars seventh-generation family member Geoff Molson and puts a spotlight on what it means to be Canadian. Molson is also asking people to nominate Canadians who represent the country’s character and values, and will reward 150 winners with personalized versions of the brand’s red fridges.

“Molson as a company has been in Canada for 230 years. That’s before Canada was Canada,” she said. “So we can actually say that as a company and as a brand, we genuinely understand what makes up true Canadian character, both in beer and in our people.”

Jakovcic also noted that the recently-launched ‘A Taste of Who We Are’ effort is already doing better than the brand’s iconic ‘I Am Canadian’ campaign.

Tom Herbst, head of global marketing at The North Face, said that he thinks the whole concept of brand purpose has changed in recent years due to the advent of companies like Uber and Warby Parker.

“Purpose is sort of a buzzword these days that a lot of people are trying to slap on top of their business,” he said. “We’re going up against, in many ways, a new breed of company in which their business structure and business practice is their purpose. So if you think about Warby Parker, or even Uber, or Toms, there’s no difference between the way that their business runs and their purpose.”

Because of this, he said that it is “dangerous for big companies to say ‘we’re going to find our purpose and then start doing it,’” since that approach could easily come across as inauthentic.

Herbst, who joined The North Face last year after holding numerous roles at Diageo, said that although he is “super fortunate to work for a brand that has a pretty clear purpose of enabling exploration for people,” the 50-year-old company still has to compete with smaller, nimbler brands that are “purpose-driven from the start.”

Last year, Sid Lee rolled out a campaign for The North Face called ‘Question Madness’ that was focused around the incredible feats of athletes and their relentless determination. As far as brand purpose goes, Herbst said that the outdoor gear and athletic clothing brand is focused on recruiting people who “live the brand” and can help tell its story.

During the panel, which was moderated by chief executive of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity Philip Thomas, the marketers also discussed how they go about selecting agency partners when there are so many options to choose from, particularly with the rise of publisher studios and even in-house units.

Herbst joked that his approach when it comes to selecting agencies is similar to that of a married couple who choose to have an open relationship.

He said that while he thinks it’s important to have an agency that can serve as a “core brand partner, who can have deep and meaningful conversations,” he also likes to work with specialist agencies that can work with The North Face on a project basis.

“I think that’s going to be how a lot of people operate in the future, because I think a lot of marketers still want and need at least one close relationship,” he said.

Jakovcic said the she prefers to work with agency partners on a longterm basis since she feels as though they become more committed to the brand over time.

“I am a big fan of longstanding agency partners. I really feel like the people that you’re working with that are closest to your brand and actually know and love your brand the most, and who are literally inspired to think about ideas for you in their sleep, are always going to be the best partners," she said.

Thomas noted that recent Cannes research has found that if if an agency has a relationship with a client that’s more than five years long, they have twice the chance of winning a Lion.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.