This year when Victoria’s Secret announced that they won’t be have their iconic Fashion Show, amidst the collective disappointment of men across the world, my heart rejoiced. VS, among many other brands, seemed to have missed the memo from millennials – “Get woke or get going!”. It’s easy to say this is just pandering, but is it really when the numbers are so loud. From 10.3 million viewers in 2011 to 5 million in 2017 to just 3.3 million in 2018.
But what happened? Well, in one word – RIHANNA.1 Rihanna’s successful lingerie brand Savage x Fenty is everything VS is not. It is inclusive and progressive. It is devoid of the male gaze. It is overtly sexual but not titillating. And millennials put their money where their mouths are!2
I would argue that Rihanna’s is a brand with a purpose. Not one that is shoved down our throats. But one that is demonstrated to us through the product range (44 shades of foundation!) and even a simple glance at their social media.
I often wonder if legacy brands have it tougher. To activate brand purpose meaningfully and sustainably, brands have to ask some difficult questions: Why do we exist? What problems do we hope to solve?
It is harder to add purpose to brands that already carry years of baggage, and this often puts them at a disadvantage as compared to new brands. However, it is doable. Nike gets it right consistently. Their purpose is simple, and inspiring.3 But most importantly, they stand behind their athletes consistently. One look at their videos on social feeds almost makes me forgive them for not extending their contract with Roger Federer and putting me through seeing the GOAT in that unappealing Uniqlo gear. What they have got right is the sweet spot between literal product benefit (sports, health, movement) and community (community health, equality, empowerment).
Eventually however, the question we invariably ask is does purpose equal profit? I’m happy to report that the answer is a resounding yes. Treating customers are more than just buyers has almost always led to more commercial success.4 Look at Disney, Apple, Dove.
This ‘Make Purpose Pay’ study tells us that sustainable living brands contributed to 60% of HUL’s growth in 2016.5 It is absolutely fascinating to see what purpose can do for a brand when done honestly and with integrity.
All of this rings true to me because every day, I find myself making purchases inspired by more than just the product I’m getting. I’m one of many who want more when we spend money. We’re a generation of people who want to be proud to post about the brands we use on social media, and feel like we’re making a difference. And we’re waiting for all Indian brands to catch up.