The View from the Festival of Marketing 2019 – part 1

The View from the Festival of Marketing 2019 – Part 1

Fuse brings you the biggest talking points from this year’s Festival of Marketing

Every year marketers head to London’s Tobacco Docks to discover, learn, celebrate and shape the future of marketing together.

In yet another year of uncertainty and fast-paced change, the industry discussed connecting with new audiences, developing an authentic voice in brand purpose and ensuring that all marketing investment is successfully measured.

Here, in the first of a three-part series, we bring you the biggest talking points from the festival that have inspired Fuse to think differently, informed by several conflicting philosophies delivered by some of the industry’s biggest hitters.


With 2019 looking to be the year where more brands than ever commit to facilitating social change, Festival of Marketing 2019 saw a number of specialists take to the stage to discuss how to effectively run purposeful campaigns and avoid pitfalls.

Brand purpose must be reflected internally and externally

Brand purpose doesn’t belong solely to the marketing, advertising or product teams, as noted by Helen Job, Head of Insight at TCO London. Instead, it must filter through every aspect of a brand in order to ensure a company-wide purpose is being consistently broadcast throughout.

Brands must look at their internal processes and ensure that they are practicing what they preach when it comes to broadcasting their purpose and values. A brand can’t attempt to engage with consumers through conversations and campaigns about female empowerment if they’re paying female executives less money than their male counterparts. For example, Ben & Jerry’s Head of Activism, Ed Shepherd, discussed how the brand’s mission to ‘make the world a better place’ is reflected throughout its entire value chain: from all products being fully Fairtrade certified to ensuring a stable dairy scheme is in place.

Long-term consistency is key

To become a credible and trusted authority on any purpose, a brand’s values cannot change each year, and certainly not campaign to campaign. During a session discussing purpose and brand activism, panellists used Gillette’s recent ‘We Believe: The Best Men Can Be’ campaign, which tried to speak out about toxic masculinity, as an example where a brand’s attempt to cash in on social justice by making a big statement has failed. Shepherd conceded that the campaign does show how far the industry has come to see a brand like Gillette talk openly about such a sensitive topic. However, Gillette’s execution was poor as it wasn’t rooted in any long-term values but was instead created solely for the purpose of a single ad campaign.

Rhodri Evans, Brand Engagement Manager at Levi’s, discussed the brand’s long-term purpose strategy. Rather than dictating to audiences what the right and wrong behaviours are, year after year Levi’s stays true to its brand values and continues to develop the Levi’s Music Project which supports different communities by providing access to music education in the areas that need it most. This allows Levi’s to avoid the inconsistencies that other brands come under scrutiny for.

This sentiment was echoed by Sid McGrath, Chief Strategy Officer, Karmarama. To him, purpose is found in a deep understanding of why you exist as a brand. It is not about trying to save the world – no one thinks of toothpaste or bank accounts in that way. It is about being able to play a meaningful role in people’s lives that goes beyond the desire to monetise them, but that importantly, is still fundamental to your business.

Consumers today are savvy enough to know when brands have simply spotted opportunities in order to create commercial gain or are attempting to cash in on consumers’ social awareness through “woke-washing”. Success means treating a person as “more human and less customer”. As someone you want to do business with, not as something you want to transact with.

Brands must take authentic action

Previously, a brand that centred its purpose strategy around its intentions was enough for consumers. Today, consumers are demanding action. Informed consumers believe the brands they interact with have a role to play in tipping the scales from talking about social purpose to taking real actions and inspiring the wider public to do the same.

Brands can’t simply decide to become involved in activism because they’ve seen the success of other brands who have and don’t want to get left behind. It’s immediately called out as inauthentic. Instead they must actively try to create systemic changes for the purpose that they have focused their attention on.

Fuse View

For decades, the US-based Business Roundtable, made up of leading CEOs from various industries, has explicitly put shareholders first. But as Forbes recently wrote, “In an atmosphere of widening economic inequality and deepening distrust of business, the powerful group has redefined its mission,” through a new statement on the purpose of a corporation.

This statement put delivering value for customers, employees and communities on the same level as delivering return for shareholders.

In this landscape, it is not surprising that “purpose” was a major topic of discussion at this year’s Festival of Marketing, with a number of speakers discussing what it means to be purposeful as a business. But the big debate seemed to fall through the gap – is purpose about a clear articulation of why you exist, or is it about placing social good at the heart of your business?

To me, and the CEOs that met at the Business Roundtable, it is clearly the former. Brands need to get to grips with this quickly and avoid the types of mistakes made by Gillette, or the almost farcically broad type of brand statement Ben & Jerry’s has opted for.

Purpose is found in a deep understanding of why you exist as a brand. It is not about trying to save the world – no one thinks of toothpaste or bank accounts in that way. It is about being able to play a meaningful role in people’s lives that goes beyond the desire to monetise them, but that importantly, is still fundamental to your business.

While this is not a new idea (in fact, it is really quite an old idea), it is perhaps getting squeezed out as brands search for greater efficiency through technology and struggle with their “societal role”.

Sponsorships and partnerships cannot create this for a brand, but they can provide a clear and powerful articulation of it.

They can convey something unique and dynamic about a brand that has real significance for the audience because it has a point of reference in something people do care about and understand (i.e. not toothpaste).

Guinness’ longstanding association with rugby is the perfect example (and timely with the Rugby World Cup in full swing). Rugby is not only a valuable drinking occasion, but Guinness have taken real parts of the sport’s story and linked them to an idea that is fundamental to the brand; Made of More.

The implications for us are clear.

  • Don’t look for shared “values”. They are intangible, and generally ignore the audience (who really don’t care about them)
  • Don’t reach for a role in a partnership if one doesn’t exist
  • Don’t forget to think about how the idea you want to convey is meaningful to the audience

Instead, find partnerships that say something about you that is worth shouting about. And when you find it, shout loud.

To read our full report on the Festival of Marketing 2019 click here.