My three big lessons about brand purpose from Most Contagious 2019

4 min read
Jan 21, 2020 12:00:00 AM

I was lucky enough to attend the Most Contagious event (which looks at the most important campaigns and trends in marketing, technology and consumer culture from the past year) in London before Christmas.

As always, it was incredibly inspiring and sparked a lot of new ideas in my head. It also reassured me that a lot of what I believe about brand purpose, and that underpins the work we do at Oxford, is still true, even in our rapidly changing and uncertain world.

Here are the 3 big things relating to brand purpose that I took out of Most Contagious 2019...

1. Great insight is still critical, but also different

We often think that working on brand purpose is different to ‘traditional’ marketing, and in many ways this is true. However, in some ways working on brand purpose goes right back to the heart of good old-fashioned marketing. One of the areas in which this is most true is that of insight.

A great brand purpose is based on a deep understanding of problems in the world that the brand could help solve and of the people the brand is looking to engage. The magic happens when a brand finds the overlap between these two things.


Scandinavian brand Carlings understood the huge environmental impact of the fashion industry, which contributes significantly to water pollution, CO2 emissions, microfibres in the ocean and landfill.

They also understood that the people the brand wants to engage with live in a paradox. On one hand they want to limit their environmental impact, but on the other hand they want to express themselves and don’t want to be seen online in the same clothes more than once (demonstrated by the fact that since the birth of social media, clothing sales have increased by 60%).

Out of this understanding came the idea for a digital clothing collection which exists purely in a digital space and allows young people to express themselves on line, with no environmental impact.


Finding this magic overlap is often hard and it requires marketers to understand their consumers more deeply and broadly than they might ever have done before.

Critically, they need to see them not as consumers of their brand or category, but as people, digging into their motivations, beliefs, hopes and fears.

Marketers also need to dig deep externally, understanding what problems exist in the world that they have the credibility and capability to help solve.

2. A good brand purpose is one that some people won’t like

As marketers we spend a lot of our time creating things people will ‘like’, whether it’s a concept that has high purchase intent, a TV ad that scores well, or a Facebook ad that people will literally ‘like’.

But when developing brand purpose, if everyone you tell about your idea (across a wide and varied group of people) says that they like it, then that’s probably not a good thing. A good brand purpose should state an opinion or belief about something that someone could, and probably will, disagree with.


By tackling the issue of toxic masculinity, Gillette took on an issue that many people have strong and often polarising views on and consequently their ‘The Best Men Can Be’ film (in)famously became one of the most liked and disliked ads of all time. Love it or hate it, is sparked such a high level of debate and conversation because it took on an issue that really mattered to people.

Black & Abroad co-founder Eric Martin was told by a PR adviser that ‘under no circumstance should you run this campaign’.

The campaign in question, #GoBackToAfrica, went on to not only spark conversation about black representation in travel but also increased brand visibility by 315% and won the Creative Data Grand Prix at Cannes (where judges were looking for campaigns that 'trigger human emotion and change people’s behaviour').


As a team working on your brand purpose, you should feel at least a little bit uncomfortable. If you don't, then you might have stayed too close to the category or not taken on a real problem that people care about.

Of course, whenever you feel uncomfortable it’s important to stop and understand why, if the level of risk is acceptable or not, and how you can proactively manage any risk. But if you are feeling uncomfortable because people might disagree with you, then your purpose probably takes on something that matters, and that is a good thing.

3. Don't underestimate the importance of a passionate team

As I was listening to the stories of ‘We Have to See More Of Each Other’ from Spanish liqueur brand Rauvieja, and the Gillette ‘The Best Men Can Be’ campaign, the thing that I was most struck by was the people presenting.


The Ruavieja campaign shows people how little time they have left to spend with those they love and juxtaposes this with how long they will spend as watching TV or on the internet. The incredible passion of the brand and agency team came across clearly and they shared stories about how they had changed their own lives as a result of the campaign.

Pankaj Bhalla, P&G’s VP of Shave Care, talked about the decision he made, with his wife, to stand behind Gillette’s ad, even after online trolls published pictures of his son and posted his walking route to school.


In our experience it's critical that brand teams immerse themselves in the specific problem that their brand is taking on. They can do this by talking to people affected by the problem and already working to help solve it, joining forums and social media groups, attending conferences etc.

As a result they not only develop personal passion to help solve the problem (which helps to overcome the inevitable challenges they'll face) but they also build knowledge, credibility and networks which ultimately leads to a better end result for everyone.

If you care about brand purpose and would like to talk, please get in touch.

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think