Over the last day in Cannes there’s been a lot of talk about purpose or why a brand exists; and added to that a lot of confusion about how a purpose differs from a brand promise or a brand positioning.
The best example I’ve seen so far came in a seminar on Sunday called ‘Sports as a source of global creative inspiration’. This session was run by Marcello Serpa (creative officer at AlmapBBDO). He held up Nike’s work as the best in class. They are a brand with purpose (they believe that everybody is an athlete). They use sport as the context for this story: 

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This contrasts to a brand focused on a promise (which is often mislabeled as it’s purpose) Visa. Their brand promise that they are ‘everywhere you want to be’. Let’s be clear, this is not a purpose. This is an amplification of a competitive advantage (or how you operate), not why you exist. This is best seen when you compare their World Cup ad below to Nike’s:

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 9.41.34 pmThe meaning of this organisation is grounded in the functional and so it’s ultimately limited. It will never be more than an ad or marketing tactic. Maybe that’s the big distinction that needs to be made – a purpose can apply to everything an organisation does (down the legal department); a promise or positioning will always be limited to the marketing department.