Editor’s note: Paul Laver is the co-founder of One Minute to Midnight. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “Is brand purpose really about the brand?”

The problem with the world today (reminiscent of that least favored uncle at the wedding) is the pervasive eagerness of every brand to assume the role of a savior. This complex might indeed be fueling a worldwide decline in brand reputation – an overarching "reputation recession," if you will. 

This is not to undermine the brands who are playing a part in saving the world, or to say that brands can’t…think Patagonia. However, a trend has emerged wherein it seems like almost every brand aspires to be a force for world-saving or societal transformation. The consequence of this “pursuit” within the realms of sustainability and progressive social advocacy has led to a dilution of the authentic essence of purpose. It is a sad situation because every brand does need some form of “good” purpose otherwise it becomes irrelevant.

To me, there are three key problems in the belief systems of marketers and brand keepers around brand purpose:

Let’s look at these three interrelated themes.

Creating, evolving and refining a brand purpose is complex. Brands can’t merely stick on a sustainability or a diversity and inclusion ribbon from a box of brand purposes medals. The world is awash with missteps by brands as they’ve tried to launch an initiative, create a communications marketing campaign or start a revolution around a two-dimensional story of social or environmental benefit. The Pepsi ad of a few years back with Kendall Jenner encouraging peace around a fractured world – one Pepsi can at a time – immediately comes to mind!  

Brands can of course move into a socially responsible space (and many should), but they must do it with deep thought, outstanding creativity and authenticity for where they ...