max lenderman school boulder purpose marketing



Mark Duval

Originally Posted

September 18, 2018


This is the third and final blog post from Mark Duval’s interview with Max Lenderman, CEO & Founder of School. Read the first part here, which addresses the evolution of experiential marketing. The second part explores brand purpose and how some brands get it wrong while others get it right. This post generally covers issues around brand purpose such as performance and new business considerations for brands and agencies.

Mark: Okay so this is a two-part question. For companies or agencies that have truly embraced purpose as part of their ethos, how can they use that to grow their business, grow their sales, acquire new business? And also are you seeing more briefs come down with a need for purpose or a campaign to extract and deliver purpose?

Max: Good question. Yes, so qualifying that question a little bit is a lot — almost 80% — of the briefs that we get, have a specific purpose asked. It traditionally sounds something like this: we have a bunch of brands, they all support different causes, we have a massive corporate social responsibility budget that no one knows about, that we don’t know how to activate. How do we create brand growth by aligning all our different causes and our corporate social responsibility efforts into viable multi-year platforms that we could leverage to basically become more relevant in culture?

So in that regard, the ability to “commercialize corporate social responsibility,” is going to be a hot topic for the next five years. If you look at Unilever’s performances, their “purpose brands” (or “sustainable brands”), like the brands that have either been developed or repositioned in order to give back or to solve a major issue in the world, they outperform Unilever’s other brands; growing more than 60% faster. So there’s already a ton of examples and a lot of Fortune 500 companies who have a billion dollars in their corporate social responsibility foundations. How do you unlock the inherent goodness of these large corporations and then how do you trickle that inherent goodness down into those brands in a cohesive, compelling, understandable way? I think that’s not going to go away at all.

Unilever's purposeful brands grow faster by


At the same time, if I’m a creative director or strategist at a major agency or even a midsize agency, and I’m looking at the campaigns that have been winning at Cannes — actually, this morning “Fearless Girl” won the Grand Effie for North America. If I’m looking at what work is winning and I’m a creative director that wants to be known for winning work, I’m going to start thinking hard and deep around purpose as the platform that our ideas revolve around. I’m going to think a lot harder around how do we use Domino’s to solve the food deserts problems in America, rather than what’s the $4.99 two-topping deal. So because I know that shit is actually getting noticed and awarded and envied I might take it in that direction. So the brief might not give me a purpose idea, or directive, but I think that creatives and strategists are invariably going down that path anyway.

And if we can continue to attract Millennials and now Gen Z into the industry, the way we’re going to attract them is to say, “By the way, you’re going to be able to find meaning in your work by activating large brand budgets to do good in the world.” Not: “You’re going to come in and create awesome TV commercials that are going to be on the Superbowl.” Hey, guess what? A third of the Super Bowl commercials last year and the year before talked about purpose, or sustainability, or corporate social responsibility.