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From Marine Layer to Salesforce—How purpose-driven brands give us reasons to believe

From Marine Layer to Salesforce—How purpose-driven brands give us reasons to believe

By Tia Nowack
Associate Design Director

Your brand will not solve climate change. 

You know that. I know that. And modern consumers know that, too. 

So why do brands continue to make grand claims about the role they’ll have in combating this or any other threat to society? Because you’ve been told over and over that you need to champion a cause. Right a wrong. Make the world better. 

The stats aren’t new. 

Two-thirds of consumers say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues. 

Unilever estimates a $12 trillion opportunity for brands that make their sustainability credentials clear. 

78% of Americans believe companies must do more than just make money — they must positively impact society as well.

So brands latch on to a cause — women’s rights, climate change, economic inequality, LGBTQ rights, gun control. You know the list. What they want more than anything is to be visibly linked. The details aren’t important, but proximity is. 

Give the leaders of these brands the benefit of the doubt — these causes are probably something they do actually care about, something they’d genuinely like to improve. 

But then the marketing lines come out, and to say they overreach is an understatement, not to mention the design work. Green and recycled paper means you’re saving the earth. Rainbow everything means you’re bringing equality to the masses. 

And when you roll your new “cause campaign” out to the world, the same public that has demanded companies take a stand greets you with a lukewarm reception. 

Sure, there’s a large group excited to see you supporting an issue they care about. But there’s also a growing group with an uncomfortable feeling in their stomachs. They’re happy to see a brand like yours taking on an important issue, but they also wonder what it really means. Are you co-opting a movement for corporate profits? And what are you actually doing

I’ll be honest, I’m in that second group. I’m a skeptic. So I dig. I peel back the rainbow-patterned, recycled-plastic-from-the-ocean curtain to see what’s actually happening. What I’m looking for are reasons to believe. 

Reasons to Believe

If you’re going to insert your brand into a cultural hot-button issue, be prepared to act. With every brand from Pepsi and Starbucks to Walmart and Nike taking public stands on issues like LGBTQ rights, racism, gun control and climate change, modern consumers are getting better at calling out faux-woke publicity stunts. 

Good news: here’s where brands can take a little of the pressure off themselves. You do not need to solve climate change or gender equality alone. And no one expects you to. So stop talking like that’s what’s happening. 

Instead, focus on the tangible, real things your brand can commit to doing that will make an impact, no matter how small. Use these proof points to craft your story, weaving your RTBs seamlessly throughout. 

Strong purposed-based RTBs can take many forms, though must be proven and fact-based. Some great options are: 

  • The results of a research study, extra points if independently run and verified
  • Story sharing that highlights the impact of your work 
  • Cold hard data of the work you’ve done or money you’ve sent to a specific town, country, organization, etc. 
  • Awards and accreditations from third party sources.

In the honor of concrete examples, here are some brands with powerful RTBs.

Marine Layer

A purveyor of oh-so-cozy apparel, Marine Layer’s founder started the business to create the softest tee-shirt you’ve ever worn, responsibly. From supply chain to manufacturing facilities, the brand takes transparency seriously, and sustainability has always been woven into their success. 

With their Re-Spun initiative, they’re inviting fans to get in on the action. By requesting a recycling kit, consumers can send in old, past-their-prime shirts to be re-spun into “the world’s softest 100% recycled tee.” The participatory element of their mission is awesome. But what’s even cooler? They’ll give you $5 for each tee you send in. 


Salesforce doesn’t run flashy campaigns about ending gender discrimination, but they are publically addressing salary discrimination in their own organization, shining light on the issue and inspring other massive companies to act. 

In 2015, when chairman and CEO Marc Benioff realized his company was paying women less than men, he took action. To date, Salesforce has spent $10.3 million correcting the discrepancy. And after realizing that many of the meetings he was in consisted exclusively of men, Benioff also changed meeting policies, announcing that he would no longer start meetings unless at least 30% of the attendees were women. 

Today, Salesforce is routinely ranked one of the top places to work. Public stances like this are a big reason why.


You already know REI is the corporate darling when it comes to environmental activism, so I won’t bore you with those totally impressive details. 

But they’re also a leader in following the web of corporate money behind some of their most beloved brands — a trend that’s picking up steam, especially in the gun control debate. 

Following the infamous Parkland shooting in 2018, REI publicly reevaluated it’s business with Vista Outdoor Inc., a holding company with a portfolio that includes outdoor favorites like CamelBak, Bell and Giro, in addition to firearm and ammunition brands. When Vista refused to engage in a national discussion about gun safety, REI publicly cut ties. 

In the summer of 2019, Vista revealed they were selling their firearm business. Promptly following the decision, REI announced they’d resume business with Vista following the sale.

More profitable than ever, these morally-guided decisions are at the heart of the REI brand.

We need brands to step up. 

We live in a time when the public doesn’t trust government to solve society's most pressing issues. So we turn to brands. And with corporate profits and global impact reaching new limits, it might be companies that are best poised to improve the trajectory of our world. 

Sure, your brand can’t solve the world’s problems alone, but that doesn’t absolve you of acting. To tackle these global issues, we need every organization and individual to step up, even if that starts with baby steps.

You may not be able to solve climate change. But we can. 

Barkley US

Nov 22, 2019

filed under:
Consumer Products, Healthcare, Millennial, More, Restaurant


Consumer Products, Finance, More, Purpose, Restaurant, Retail, Sustainability
Consumer Products, Purpose, Retail
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