Why brands need to #standforsomething

Purpose is the new vision, mission, CSR and employee engagement strategy all rolled into one. Companies and brands that define and articulate their purpose – their why – are more successful than those that don’t. Who says so? Jim Stengel, the former CMO of P&G no less.

Brands like Apple, with its products designed to improve our quality of life.

Brands like Patagonia, “building the best products, causing no unnecessary harm, using business to inspire and implementing solutions to the environmental crisis”.

Brands like TOMS, improving lives by selling shoes to the developed world, giving shoes to the developing work.

Brands like Dove, and its Campaign for Real Beauty.

And brands like P&G’s own Always and its win-every-award Like a Girl campaign.

There can’t be many who have any responsibility for communications who aren’t familiar with the patron saint of corporate purpose, Simon Sinek. His humble sermon, Start With Why, has clocked up almost 26 million views, making it the third most-watched TED talk of all time.

As a corporate and brand storyteller, I think a lot about purpose. At Insight Agents, we spend a lot of time working with businesses – often B2B – helping them to find and express their purpose. Through brand language, thought leadership, consulting and training. It’s a wonderful and genuinely transformative way to earn a crust.

So it came as something of shock that I’d never come across Dr Martens’ fabulous Stand for Something campaign until I wandered into the Brighton DMs store recently.

As I strode in, my face cracked into a broad smile at the delightful, trademark thickness of the Airwair sole. So comfy, so distinctive, and so ubiquitous in the shop. It was as if a law had been passed and all shoes have to have these soles.

Dr Martens shoes

Then I was transported back to the first time I’d been made aware of DMs as a cultural phenomenon. I’d seen them. I’d been a bit scared of them on the feet of skin’eads, the Market Square Heroes of the town where I went to school. Boring old Aylesbury, Bucks.

I was 15. The Young Ones had just started on BBC2. I knew I had to be watching it, recording the soundtrack onto a tape player, listening to it twice more before going to bed, and able to recite the whole script in the playground the next morning.

And suddenly, stepping out of his role as psychopathic landlord Jerzy Balowski, Alexei Sayle sang his timeless punk ditty, Dr Martens’ Boots.


One thing that unites us

It’s not class or ideology

Colour, creed or roots

The only thing that unites us

Is Dr Martens’ boots


Unlike Rik, who’d been expecting a political manifesto, I wasn’t confused. I was transfixed at the silliness and simplicity of the message. And I’ve held DMs in high esteem ever since. I’ve never owned a pair. But whenever I see one, I get that visceral memory of pleasure and can see Alexei Sayle dancing in his DMs. And that feeling came rushing back to me in the Brighton store.

But I’ve grown up since 1982. Well, a bit. And now I think a lot about brand purpose. So my head was turned when I saw the appeals throughout the store to #standforsomething. It was immediately clear to me that this was two of my favourite things, rolled into one. A simple, clear and beautifully expressed brand purpose with a powerful call to action, combined with a delightful pun. What great use of English: to say what you stand for by using those words AND wrapping up the functional benefit of your product into just three words. Masterly.

Brand assets instore

And then I started to explore the campaign. A properly integrated campaign created by ODD London with distinctive iconography, encouraging “individual style and united spirit” on Facebook. A campaign with longevity – somehow I’d missed all the activity from 2013 onwards … perhaps because I’m now too old and definitely not core target audience. And an in-your-face brand manifesto film with all the young dudes saying what they stand for … “rising against conformity”; “keeping things simple”; “the youth – they shape the future”; “being unique – for not putting myself in a box”; “getting shit done”; “putting myself out there”; and, “keeping people guessing”.

The shoes and boots of a lost generation of music, of punk, of fashion, continuing to associate itself with the raw energy of youth. Not getting old and flabby, but continually celebrating free-thinking individuals – “from first timers to those who have been with us forever”.

When companies and brands find and express their purpose, they thrive. And judging by the throng of hipsters in the Brighton store, this message resonates and chimes with the youth of today as it did more than 30 years ago. Forza Dr Marten and your boots. The only thing that unites us.

And in my fiftieth year, I might even buy a pair.