Will 2023 be the year real purpose-led marketing finally goes mainstream?

14 December 2022

Alex Young, Creative Brief BITE

Predictions are never easy, and as we end 2022 mired in a heady mix of cost-of-living crises, rampaSignificant cultural and behavioural shifts could create an exciting marketing landscape

The butterfly effect of any occurrence – big or small – is impossible to predict, or to detect, until long after the event, and the bigger the incident the wider the ripples will spread. When the pandemic hit in 2020 the narrative through the advertising industry echoed that from the last recession. Businesses were encouraged to spend through the hard times in order to limit the damage to their bottom line. And now, no sooner is the pandemic behind us and businesses have dusted themselves off than we are back in a real recession and the story feels like it’s all been told very recently.

However, the pandemic was responsible for a significant shift in the way many brands connected with the public and one that will be critical as we go into 2023. They discovered the power of positivity, of using their might for good. And that has, to an extent, continued into 2022. Over the past year or two we have seen a marked increase in brands engaging with a more personal approach to marketing: more impactful campaigns, consciously making a positive difference to people’s lives and working hard to get more personal with consumers.

Consider some of this year’s Christmas ads as a prime example. Several brands – from Co-op to M&S – chose to use their annual moment in the spotlight to showcase a good cause. And John Lewis produced a very literal nod to human connection with its film about a foster dad going that extra mile (on a skateboard) to connect with his new charge. All a refreshing change to the usual focus on food, gifts and general excess.

Over the past year or two we have seen a marked increase in brands engaging with a more personal approach to marketing: more impactful campaigns, consciously making a positive difference to people’s lives and working hard to get more personal with consumers.

Alex Young, Managing Director, We Are Futures

Meanwhile on a day-to-day basis consumer giants like McDonalds, Samsung and Sky are putting marketing spend behind projects that are designed not to shift goods today, but to build a stronger connection with the public through campaigns based on education, opportunity and upskilling. 

Whether it’s offering school leavers the chance to train on the job, mentoring young tech entrepreneurs or delivering an expanded arts education to cash-strapped schools, each of these businesses – and scores more like them – have diversified their marketing spend towards things that positively impact people’s lives.  

And if you’re wondering how to sell the notion to the finance director, it’s not exclusively virtuous. By focusing on delivering life-changing projects to young adults, you are also investing in the consumers of tomorrow. Your consumers of tomorrow: Those people who grew up seeing your brands as a positive force, one that inspired them, gave them purpose or just provided a much-needed leg up into a career. That dedication will pay off in spades down the line as you earn the trust and loyalty of tomorrow’s wage earners. 

But, as an increasing number of brands move towards positive storytelling in 2023, it will become more important than ever to live those stories. The phrase “be the change you want to see in the world” has never been more pertinent. Young people today are savvy and switched on. They don’t stand for disingenuousness or a lack of authenticity. Saying the right thing is not enough – they respect the brands that do the right thing, and whose external values are carried through into every facet of their business. 

The secret, I believe, is to treat people as partners, not consumers. The world is moving on from the purely transactional “we-sell-you-buy” model and instead is becoming a two way street. People have a need and a brand has a solution. In providing that solution businesses can go some way to improving lives and experiences.

Education and skills building programmes that help a young person hone their skills and progress in a chosen career, personal banking challenges that improve financial literacy, and schemes that celebrate equality and diversity will all set a brand apart for originality and a commitment to change.

Actively creating opportunities for change, rather than just talking about them in marketing materials and advertising, will give a brand credibility and act as a proof point to discourage any talk of virtue signalling. 

All this points to an exciting time for advertising in 2023 and beyond. I’m deeply hopeful that next year will mark a turning point in businesses creating amazing purposeful and personal connections with people. The subtle shifts over the past few years, coupled with the changing expectations of young people, are now resulting in a wave of new behaviour, so much so that those marketers who fail to adjust in time will, I fear, be left behind. 


View other news & views

Scottish Water Campaign

Scottish Water launches Generation H2O by We Are Futures

Read more
Careers Unwrapped

We Are Futures podcast-led initiative Careers Unwrapped helps brands develop talent in schools

Read more

It’s back to school time for brands: three lessons every client looking to engage with young people should learn.

Read more

Linkedin, Nintendo and Sky are Gen Z’s top employers

Read more

Nintendo and Spotify named as Gen Z’s favourite brands

Read more

Mark Fawcett on Gen Z’s desire to learn useful skills

Read more