Arghhh. It’s total bullshit. I’m so, so bored of it. Somewhere out there in the ether, at the intersection where sustainability, irrelevance and populism collide, every brand under the sun decided it needed a lofty purpose to make it matter to everybody, everywhere, all of the time, forever.
I present Exhibit A: the new Cadbury Heroes ad. Off the back of a tenuous link about “the little things that bring us together”, we get a cloying, overblown, honestly insipid TWENTY-ONE MINUTE VIDEO from a fucking chocolate selection box brand, about the lengths that a few parents will go to in order to reconnect with their slightly distant kids. This is it: we have reached the zenith of doe-eyed brand values that look well-meaning but have this weirdly sinister edge to them, like one day Cadbury might run your local foodbank or some shit.
Okay, look, I’m swearing a lot. But I am so tired of every business deciding it has a high-reaching, emotive raison d’etre. “Families Reunited” sounds like a now-defunct crossover between a genealogy website and a 90s social media platform. This is not the right level for a box of chocolates to be playing at. Know your place, for god’s sake.
There is, to be clear, a world of difference between this campaign and the 2018 Cadbury “Mum’s Birthday” TVC, which was born from the same notion of generosity as the above monstrosity, but delivered it in a beautiful, emotional, satisfying minute of advertising. One is rooted in real life; the other is contrived. One is honestly moving; the other is eye-rollingly cheesy. One lasts sixty seconds; the other drags itself out for twenty-one minutes. Okay, fine, there are much shorter cuts in the media plan. But Cadbury Heroes do not deserve twenty-one minutes of my time unless I am eating them.
Why do you care so much, Adam? Well, aside from the fact I have to wade through mountains of this happy-clappy nonsense every week in my role at Finn, I care because this purpose-y trash is killing creativity and it has to stop right now before it’s too late. Can’t be bothered to develop a real idea that people will find genuinely interesting or exciting? Just save a kitten or something (and then dress it in a t-shirt with your logo on it, probably).
On one side of the marketing mix, you’ve got performance media, which everyone has agreed has crippled creativity by pulling the focus to algorithms and efficiency. We’re just about learning how to get over that.
But on the other side, you’ve now got this whole new dimension of excuses not to think about stuff. LGBT sandwiches for Pride. Pepsi x Kendall Jenner. Whatever this is. It all comes from the same dull place: a firm belief that brands should be saving the world, but no conviction behind it and consequently no grounding in reality.
None of this is to say that brands shouldn’t know what they stand for, or do good things in the world. I am genuinely all for it. This is about the pervasiveness of purpose as an ideal for all marketing to aspire to, the idea that if something (to the naked eye) has its “heart in the right place”, then it deserves adulation and attention. We’re past that, now. Way, way past it.
It’s an alternate universe where all content is created by brands, all causes are sponsored by NPD, and all our existing emotions are the product of advertising. If this example seems innocuous, that’s my whole point; purpose is the new wallpaper, and if you don’t have anything worth saying, then for heaven’s sake shut up.