Six Principles for Avoiding Purpose Washing | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

Six Principles for Avoiding Purpose Washing


Across industry sectors, companies of all ages and sizes are leaning into their stated purpose to improve the lives of consumers and customers, address societal issues, and make a meaningful difference in the world. In doing so, studies show, purposeful organizations are driving sustained brand growth, retaining and acquiring top talent, and building trust and loyalty among all stakeholders.

However, as more brands and businesses declare themselves purposeful to the outside world, there is growing cynicism among stakeholders over inauthentic attempts to appear socially and ethically conscious. A recent survey by Razorfish and Vice Media found that only 43 percent of consumers truly believe brands are living their purpose. And in today's call-out culture, cries of "purpose washing" are becoming commonplace. Indeed, in the rush to make a societal impact, some brands have risked putting the purpose "story" ahead of their purpose strategy and actions.

Offenders often suffer huge backlash for failing to make purpose core to what they say and do. Even an innocent mistake can sometimes impact the trustworthiness of a brand and damage its reputation.

To help ensure purpose is authentically embedded into every part of an organization, the ANA Center for Brand Purpose collaborated with senior marketers, agency executives, educators, and other purpose experts to develop "Six Principles for Avoiding Purpose Washing." Two principles apply specifically to the creation of a purpose statement and four relate to the activation of purpose internally and externally.

From developing a strategic and enduring purpose statement, to creating systems and processes to manage purpose, to measuring the impact of purpose, the principles are meant to deeply root authenticity into business strategy and organizational culture.

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"Six Principles for Avoiding Purpose Washing." ANA, 2022.