Why have so many smart people “lost the plot” on brand purpose?

Jan 18, 2022

Purpose received one of its most brutal critiques last week when Terry Smith, manager of the £29bn Fundsmith Equity fund, lashed out at Unilever’s “ludicrous” focus on sustainability, in response to their poor -0.2% annual return to his shareholders.

He wrote that:

“Unilever seems to be labouring under the weight of a management which is obsessed with publicly displaying sustainability credentials at the expense of focusing on the fundamentals of the business.… A company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has in our view clearly lost the plot. The Hellmann’s brand has existed since 1913, so we would guess that by now consumers have figured out its purpose (spoiler alert — salads and sandwiches).”

Sadly, this is not a new thing. As I wrote in the 3 Problems With Purpose, the idea that your brand needs to be ALL about a social mission or sustainability is tripping up countless CEOs and...

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