Make ‘Brand Purpose’ Real – or it risks to back-fire

Sodastream just launched the video below on YouTube.  It could be summarized along these lines ‘Greedy Capitalists destroy the earth by pushing plastic bottles on us. We can save the world by using Sodastream‘.  Expect this video to have gone ‘viral’ by the time you read this – helped by some significant investment into promoting it on social-media.

This certainly is one way to build awareness for a significant environmental issue. But it might also risk to weaken the willingness of the broad target audience to acknowledge that issue or engage in a solution.

That is because many might interpret this ad as “one business trying to steal share from another by pulling our heartstrings with ‘some cause-related advertising’ again“. Yes, ‘purpose-led marketing’ has found its way into the mainstream, mass-marketing toolbox – the ad itself mocks the approach – and it is hitting the ‘bullshit radar’ of informed consumers. And that is a waste (pun intended) because many of these alert, influential consumers could otherwise be critical in helping spread the word, advocate for the cause and recommend a suggested solution. Others are simply growing tired of ‘do-good brand claims.’

What to do if you are serious about a higher purpose for your brand and company?  We think part of the answer to this dilemma is to live your Brand Purpose and act on it, starting with your organization and the way it makes things and does what it says creating ‘authenticity,’  or what we call ‘Brand Truth.’

In Sodastream’s case one way to do this could be to ‘put the money where their mouth is’ and consider redirecting a meaningful portion (not a token amount) of the significant premium they earn on refilling those carbonating cartridges to the cause. Sodastream gas refills retail for some $15-40 in the US (depending on size) and users increasingly discuss how to get around this steep price with do-it-yourself solutions at a fraction of the cost. Some have even set-up eBay shops to share the cost saving (and investment) with others.

If Sodastream used some of that premium to fund sustainable solutions to the plastic bottle catastrophe they might find higher income consumers not only accept those prices but laud them for their actions.

It would not be the first time that a brand is able to turn what might be perceived as ‘excessive margins’ into ‘a price worth paying’. Ben & Jerry’s, TOMS, Patagonia, Warby-Parker, Whole Foods… the list of successful premium brands we are willing to support in their good deeds is getting longer. And helping to fund or even develop solutions to save countries like Indonesia to literally drown in plastic (or places like the US running out of places where to ship the stuff to get ‘recycling’) should be no less of an emotional and passion activating cause than shoes for poor school children or responsibly farmed salmon.

Having a purpose people want to buy INTO makes your brand peerless, priceless and profitable – without shame.  It is not unusual to even find brand disciples arguing FOR the price premium, pointing to the investments and work their favorite brands are undertaking to achieve goals they share and that go beyond ‘profit maximization’. We entitled the chapter that explains this part of creating a modern premium “Living The Dream” on our book and we call the brands that are good at it “Ueber-Brands”. Ueber-Brands reach ‘above and beyond’ the material to create meaning for their commercial propositions.


To read more about the brands mentioned above and about the other six principles of Ueber-Branding, read our book “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” and other articles and case studies on this blog.

Or check out this quick summary.  If you want help in elevating your own brand, don’t hesitate to contact us or check out our method and approach.

About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here:
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