This is the second of three blog posts from Mark Duval’s interview with Max Lenderman, CEO & Founder of School. This post primarily focuses on brand purpose and how some brands get it wrong while others get it right.
Mark: Let’s talk about some of the purpose stuff that you’re doing. Because it sounds like — especially when you mentioned empathy — there’s a lot of purpose and experiential that go a bit hand-in-hand. It seems like there’s been quite an evolution of experiential. Years ago, it may have been, “Let’s have that one event.” But then you want to extend it through digital and then be able to measure it and so it’s really more involved. And now, many people are demanding an experiential side to their marketing. So what about purpose? Have you found companies demanding or wanting to weave in purpose into their experiential, or is it just that it’s a natural fit? I guess it would depend upon their brand, but how have you seen that evolve and expand?
Max: So for me, I think experiential is the best way to articulate purpose and so they go very well hand-in-hand. Like it’s the difference between the Pepsi/Kendall Jenner ad, where they tried to show Pepsi’s purpose and standing with the Black Lives Matter movement in a TV commercial, versus a brand like Dick’s Sporting Goods simply saying, “we’re not going to sell automatic rifles anymore.”
So talking about purpose and messaging purpose tends to be really, really dangerous and almost beyond ineffective; almost “reactionarily” negative. Acting on your purpose in the real world seems to be the way that most successfully transitioning brands tend to do it. So this is the simplest way of creating a bridge between experiential and purpose, is “Buy One Give One.” Or creating a brand-led foundation that, like an Airbnb, does right in terms of housing refugees. Even Stella Artois, by selling chalices and all proceeds go to Matt Damon’s Water.org charity organization. Those are all manifestations of doing things in the real world that are purpose-led.
The bridge between purpose tends to land on the experiential side of the equation a lot more often and a lot more effectively than TV adverts or print editorials, or full-page takeovers in the New York Times. It’s how you act in culture that people tend to react to, rather than what you say about yourself when it comes to a purpose lens. So we call it, and Colleen DeCourcy, the chief creative officer at Wieden+Kennedy, she calls it human-centric media. So if you want to activate or talk about your purpose you usually need to use human-centric media, which is working with people or working with the media that people use to share things or to take action, which tends to be digital and social.