Brands need to think about their impact on society, says PepsiCo VP

Authentic brands are rooted in a fundamental mission that defines their relationship with the world and the consumer.

Millennials are poised to overtake baby boomers in buying power, and 80% of the younger cohort makes purchasing decisions based on a brand’s values. But what does it mean for something like a carbonated beverage or a paper product to have values?

A purpose-driven brand must "ask the question, ‘Why does my brand exist in the world and society?’" said Todd Kaplan, PepsiCo VP of marketing, speaking at South by Southwest on Monday. "What would the world look like if the brand was not a part of it?"

Brands also need to consider the service being provided to the end user, he noted.

"Brands need to think about the impact they have on society and culture," Kaplan added. "They have the power to change culture, especially when there’s a need and a vacancy." 

This may seem like a daunting task, especially for traditional brands that typical market based on functional benefits. Yet not every brand needs to be created with purpose in mind. They can evolve to have one, too, said A.J. Hassan, executive creative director at R/GA Chicago, who helped to create the Always Like a Girl campaign.

"You don’t have to be a startup to have a purpose," she said, noting that brands such as Clorox have shifted from a focus on cleaning power to a focus on intangible benefits that cleanliness can make possible. 

Far from being contrary to traditional marketing, it’s an approach that has wide appeal for audiences.

"People love brands; they just want their brands to care about them, too," Hassan said. "They love to throw on that Nike shirt," and that loyalty is only increased when they feel that Nike wants them to succeed and not just consume.

The danger lies in hypocrisy, she warned, meaning brands that claim particular values but don’t bear them out in their practices, like State Street Global Advisors, which won accolades and adoration for Fearless Girl, until it became clear that the financial services company had shot down equal pay initiatives a dozen times.

"If you’re going to weigh in these things," Hassan said, "you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a right to it."

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