Will Consumers Spend More For Purpose?

Danielle Beurteaux

Toy company Goldieblox, which makes engineering-centric toys with young girls in mind, has another digital spot racking up social media likes, just in time for the holidays. Its first foray into digital awareness featured a Rube Goldberg machine and the Beastie Boys song “Girls,” which was a social media hit. (For using the song without permission, Goldieblox eventually apologized and settled out of court. There’s now a new soundtrack for the ad).

This time they’ve reimagined some iconic action films but with the male leads switched out for Goldieblox characters Goldie and Ruby Rails (yes, named after the programming language). This time the point is the gender imbalance in films.

The digital economy is making maximizing impact of purpose marketing easier than ever. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some challenges to putting a social stance first.

The idea matters most

Using a social angle to simply sell a product doesn’t work. Consumers, and particularly those who respond to socially responsible products, are too aware now when companies’ ideas are superficial and they’re using “purpose to make a profit.”

But companies that are putting purpose front-and-center are in a different league. And they might not enshrine profits by conforming to the conventional idea that the best way to help society is by making money.

The founder of Goldieblox, Debbie Sterling, began the company to fill the large gap of STEM-based toys aimed at girls. Trained as an engineer herself, Sterling designed Goldieblox as a hands-on tool, launched a campaign on Kickstarter, and received a quick and rapturous response. Since then, the company has used its YouTube channel to share videos with a message. The “Heroes” spot isn’t selling a product (the two figures are the only Goldieblox products featured) as much as an idea; included are quotes and factoids about the gender disparity in commercial films.

Another example is from running shoe company Mizuno, which used social media to gather support for a nonprofit that uses running to help the homeless. With a virtual relay race that played out over an app, they were able to raise funds for the organization.

Other established and larger companies, like Whole Foods, Panera Bread, and Chipotle, are tapping into the trend of purpose marketing (also sometimes called pro-social marketing). But their challenge is to meld the social aspect with their existing business without being accused of the pro-social equivalent of greenwashing.

Small, agile businesses probably have it easier when it comes to purpose marketing. For one thing, more people trust them than they do large corporations. We also live in a world now where researching a company’s background, trials, and tribulations is easy – smaller, newer companies might not only be starting with a fresh slate but have fewer moving parts to control. Finally, they probably don’t (yet, anyway) have outside stockholders to mollify.

But a truly pro-social business goes beyond supporting charities and carbon credits. It’s about aligning with an issue and using its brand voice to agitate for change. Looking at some global numbers: according to a survey from Nielson, consumers will put down more money if a product or service comes with “positive social and environmental impact.” With the digital economy making it easier than ever to reach socially conscious consumers across the globe, a pro-social stance could pay off nicely.

For more on how to meet your customers’ expectations, see our infographic How to Deliver a Coordinated Customer Experience Across Every Channel.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.