Why it’s time for brand purpose to get real

“We’re just doing purpose on steroids now.” Thomas Kolster, jury chairman for the 2022 D&AD Impact awards, talks to CR about why it’s time for brands to move past the hot air, and truly recognise how they can help consumers in their lives

When Danish marketing and sustainability expert Thomas Kolster wrote his book Goodvertising back in 2012, the world hadn’t quite yet cottoned on to the idea of purpose in marketing. Since then, of course, it’s all anyone ever talks about.

“Back then, for me, it was just a very simple premise,” Kolster says, “it was saying: I feel extremely frustrated as a creative, doing something that doesn’t really feel in line with my values. I also felt let down by elected government leaders.” He thought, “What if some of the brands I worked for could do something?”, working on the premise that if something’s good for the people and planet it might also be good for the bottom line.

Nowadays we take that for granted, of course, but, says Kolster, “at the time the book really didn’t get a lot of attention. People just didn’t give a fuck.” It took D&AD picking it up, and subsequently launching the White Pencil award (which rewards creative work that makes a real difference in the industry) for the movement to really take off. This year, Kolster is jury chairman for the D&AD Impact awards, which celebrates ideas that drive sustainable change.

“It was almost like the companies were getting this faster than the industry,” he continues. “If you look at someone like Unilever, last year they celebrated ten years of their sustainable living plan. They were one of the pioneering brands.”

And then a few years ago, everyone rushed into the space. “You can barely turn on commercials today without a business pitching themselves as a world-saving messiah,” says Kolster. He decided to ask a different question: “What leader, brand or organisation has created positive change in my life?”

Kolster credits Ikea’s sustainability initiatives as setting a good example for brands. Shown top: Ikea plant-based alternative meatball; Above: Ikea refurbishment and resale pilot; Images: © Inter Ikea Systems BV