Modern Marketing Brand Strategy

GfK study identifies how ‘purpose fatigue’ may be causing brand initiatives to fall short

By John Glenday | Reporter

June 16, 2022 | 4 min read

The era of purpose-driven advertising may be entering a new phase according to a new GfK study, which finds that promoting social and environmental initiatives over selling products is no longer enough to win over audiences.

Produced in collaboration with the Goodvertising agency, the report finds that ‘purpose fatigue’ among consumers is contributing to such ads falling short in gaining and holding audience attention, demanding that new approaches be adopted.

Questioning whether the millions of dollars being plowed into burnishing social justice credentials has been money well spent, the report found that brand purpose ads underperformed more blunt mainstream approaches.

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The report found that brand purpose ads underperformed more blunt mainstream approaches

Pitting high- and low-brow advertising campaigns against one another, it was found that while 74% of mainstream ads held viewer attention, this feat was repeated by just 65% of purpose-driven ads – such as Chipotle’s ‘Can a Burrito Change the World?’

A similar picture was observed in the ability of advertising to hold attention once obtained, with 56% of mainstream ads retaining their audiences v 45% of purposeful ads.

Distinguishing between traditional purpose-led promotions, in which the brand plays the hero, and ‘transformational’ purpose, in which the halo is worn by consumers, the report found that it is the latter approach that is most likely to make us sit up and take notice.

Introducing this new category into the mix, 48% reported that messaging from ‘transformational’ advertising was clear; v 43% and 33% for purpose and mainstream ads respectively.

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Dove is singled out for praise in this regard with its ‘Reverse Selfie’ campaign, which scored significantly higher than its Chipotle cousin in terms of inspiring change.

Thomas Kolster of Goodvertising Agency said: “It’s time brands stop pitching themselves as the heroes and instead turn people into the heroes.”

Eric Villain, managing director of marketing effectiveness for GfK North America, added: “While branding cues are somewhat more frequent in traditional purpose ads, we found that those creatives underperform on key metrics, suggesting that new approaches may be needed.

“Our hypothesis is that the very definition of a transformative approach may take viewers more time and viewings to understand how they, along with the brand, can be part of the story. Because viewers are more accustomed to messages in traditional purpose ads, those are easier to grasp.”

Conclusions were drawn from a survey of 2,408 respondents who viewed 20 advertisements split equally between purpose and transformational ads.

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