Purpose-Washing Is Killing Good Advertising

Brands are more self-obsessed than ever.

I recently saw an ad for Panasonic where their tagline was “A Better Life, A Better World” and it reminds me of how much we’ve abandoned good, witty copy for pompous horseshit in the pursuit of some unrealistic goal of empowerment and inspirational revelation.

Don’t believe me? Check out this print ad from Panasonic in 1988:

“Just slightly ahead of our time.”

That slogan is beautiful, witty, and cheeky. Unfortunately, that “time” has come and gone, only to be replaced with their current slogan. And “A Better Life, A Better World” sounds like something that would be on a pillow at Target for a college freshman’s dorm.

It’s like, we don’t talk about what we do anymore, as if we’re embarrassed about it. What we should be embarrassed about is replacing this:

With this:

I mean, seriously, what the hell is that about? We can’t just sell a shipping service anymore? We have to empower people to embrace the magic of “possibilities?”

This vague, pretentious nonsense is a direct reflection of clients’ gaudy attitudes about their own self-importance in this world. I get that your average CMO needs to live, eat, and breathe their brand, but here’s a fact for anyone who needs to be reminded: nobody else does.

Nobody cares that much about FedEx or Panasonic, so why have we stopped advertising our brands based on our business and essential services, and replace them with overthought and underwhelming emotional hogwash?

I already know what that brief looked like. “NEW SLOGAN: Our brand pillars are all about hope, enabling potential, bringing people together, and making the world a better place!”

You transport boxes to people. Cut the purpose-washing and get over yourself.

Here’s another example—Ford Motor Company used to go by the slogan, “Quality Is Job One.” In the late 90’s they replaced that with “Better Ideas. Driven By You.” And today their slogan is “Go Further.”

Oh, good god. Stop asking your writers for headlines that belong in graduation speeches and let us talk to consumers like we can actually provide something tangible for them. Your soft-drink company or oil-changing service shouldn’t be propping itself up as Dale Carnegie or Joel Osteen. You’re not motivational speakers or preachers, you’re for-profit companies trying to make a sale.

How about Amazon’s slogan, “Work hard. Have fun. Make history.” That says absolutely nothing about buying lightbulbs and phone chargers on the internet. It reads more like the first sentence in Jeff Bezos’ autobiography.

So why are brands under this impression that people will stop buying their products unless they have a life-changing epiphany about their brand? Why is this a thing? I wish somebody had an answer to that question. My best guess is we fell into this contemporary advertising practice of “transforming” people when we started letting clients tell us how to do our jobs. Instead of pushing back and telling them nobody cares about them, we let them tell us they’re some sort of rockstars or heroes and we nod our heads and allow ourselves to try and prop them up as such.

If a day ever comes where Nike replaces “Just Do It” with something like “Run For A Better Tomorrow,” I will give up all hope. On that note, here’s a few great slogans I’ve intentionally purpose-washed to remind you how horrible of a trend this is. Just imagine if:

Moral of the story: cut the crap.

Copywriter at Publicis. Aggressively unfancy. A daydream dressed like a nightmare. 🏳️‍🌈 www.mikeshaheen.com

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