Pedalling purpose: the importance of shared values in the future of marketing


As I cycled across Provence last week, I was wrapped a smug blanket of self-sufficiency. My wobbly legs pedalled my heavily laden old bike up long winding hills, eagerly earning the intense exhilaration of racing down the other side; I picnicked on the edge of dramatic gorges and in the shade of olive orchards; I camped out wild, sleeping in woods, beside lakes, and on the edge of rolling lavender fields. 

My mind was un-interrupted by intrusive advertising and relentless marketing telling me I needed to buy more stuff, I was fully in the moment and I loved it. Over the four days, I spent a grand total of £34.50 – I felt like I was sticking two fingers up to our ad-driven consumerist society.

The irony of that didn’t escape me given my destination: the Cannes Lions festival of

But my blanket of smugness had blinded me to reality. I hadn’t escaped advertising – I had become it.

Looking back at my twitter and instagram feeds for the trip, I realised that they’d been scattered with shout outs to some of my favourite brands who’s made the trip possible: from WakaWaka to Warm Showers, Sugru to Loco2.

But I hadn’t thought of it as advertising because these brands feel more like friends than corporates: I share their values, respect their purpose, and yearn for their recognition and respect. I wanted to share my love for them with my friends, to tell them about these great products that could genuinely help to improve their lives, our communities, and our planet.

So when I was asked this week what the biggest threat to big brands is over the coming years, my answer was easy: purposeful brands.

In a world ever more resentful of being marketed at, as the rise of adblockers so clearly demonstrates, peer-to-peer marketing will play a critical role for organisations wanting to sell their wares. That much was clear at Cannes Lions.

And in that world, brands with a genuine purpose that customers relate to, admire, and support will have a huge head start.

So yes, you can invest in all sorts of clever marketing tech, many examples of which were showcased alongside us in the Unilever Foundry at Cannes Lions Innovation. But if you forget to build authentic purpose into your business – through your products, your employees, and your stakeholders – you’ll be fighting an ever harder battle.

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