How to Recognize and Avoid Purpose-Washing | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

How to Recognize and Avoid Purpose-Washing


While brand purpose has become a requirement for companies seeking to appeal to younger generations of consumers, the pursuit of it can be haunted by the dark twin of purpose: purpose-washing. Fortunately, guests on the ANA Center for Brand Purpose's Beyond Profit podcast periodically offer advice on how to avoid this danger, and three tips from the show follow below.

Ensure that your purpose informs everything — everything — your organization does. "Purpose-washing is about using purpose as a buzzword, as varnish, for your corporate brand in your campaign rather than having purpose as a strategic motivator, as a benchmark for the customer experience, for your hiring process, for your compensation structure, policies, procedures, etc."
Anne Bahr Thompson, author of Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit

Be accurate in how you represent your accomplishments. "Greenwashing and purpose-washing are real, and it is incumbent upon the marketer, the communicator, to understand those topics and to make sure that what we're sharing with consumers out in the world is true and accurate to the commitments that we're making as a brand."
Lindsey DeWitte, president of public relations and EVP of purpose and sustainability at Barkley

Restrain your inclination to be over-enthusiastic. "Almost all the greenwash, the vast majority of greenwash that I come across is a mistake rather than malicious. There is malicious greenwash. There are people and organizations deliberately attempting to mislead us on what they're doing, but the vast majority of it is marketing teams getting overenthusiastic about something that's good about their product, and it feels good to them, and they can talk to their kids about it, and it's a pride point. And so, they want to tell the world about it without necessarily understanding that perhaps there's other parts of the business that haven't actually stepped up to that level, or, perhaps, that even the attribute that they're trying to communicate isn't as great as they think."
Solitaire Townsend, author of The Solutionists: How Businesses Can Fix the Future

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


Morgan Strawn

Morgan Strawn is a director of editorial and content development at the ANA, which he joined in 2018. You can email him at