01 October 2021

On pack messaging: Brand Purpose versus Distinctive Assets

‘Brand purpose’ and ‘brand distinctive assets’ are two terms used in marketing departments worldwide, driven by different academics and marketing theory. And, of course, each has their place.

With brand purpose perhaps the most controversial of the two, there is a plethora of literature to be found and, thanks to Simon Sinek, businesses and individuals are constantly striving to find their WHY!

Now not everyone can credibly claim to have Patagonia’s purpose of ‘we are the business to save our home planet’, but we can still aim to be inspiring and to make a difference in a small way, so long as it feels authentic to the brand and relevant for the category.

marketing text books

And then we have distinctive brand assets, which have existed since branding began way back when, but have become significantly more high profile since Professor Byron Sharp wrote the infamous How Brands Grow ten years ago.  

However, the interesting tension is that these two high profile marketing elements in many businesses, and particularly in FMCG, rarely talk to each. There is almost an unspoken rule that purpose belongs to communications (what you say and how you say it) and distinctive assets belong primarily to packaging design. Now this may be because many brand assets on established brands were developed long before purpose became a thing, or just because it is damn tricky to effectively visualise purpose.

So, our question is should they come together more and if so, how?

We work in the field of marketing, so the answer is, of course, rarely black and white. But looking at how this is currently being done by several different brands gives us clues as to how to make this successful.


Purpose and assets working independently – Dove’s ‘Mission for Real Beauty’ 

When we think of Dove assets we would likely say white, clean, with the Dove symbol to bring to life the innocent essence of the brand. When we think of Dove’s purpose around its campaign for Real Beauty, it is bold, empowering, challenging.

Dove packaging and Real Beauty campaign

Is this a ‘clash’? The Dove iconicity and assets were well established before the Real Beauty campaign existed so there is little they can do, beyond a couple of simple claims on pack, to make the connection stronger.

Interestingly, there was an attempt to bring the brand’s purpose to life a little more with a limited-edition range in various pack shapes to resemble different female body shapes. But it backfired after a negative reaction on social channels. Some of the comments are pretty hilarious and angry (as we have come to expect from Twitter) but the idea did not go forth.

More recently, Unilever has taken more of a conversative move to remove the word ‘normal’ from all of their personal care products in a bid to tackle harmful norms and stereotypes and to shape a broader, far more inclusive definition of beauty.


Establishing new assets to highlight purpose – Bodyform/Libresse’s ‘Blood Normal’

Bodyform has been on a mission to challenge the stigmas of periods and highlight the unspoken harsh truths about women and their bodies. However, with its iconic pink pack with lots of girly detailing, bows and sparkles, it was hardly screaming ‘modern woman’. Cue a global brand re-design this year. Yes, the pink has to stay of course as this is what people recognise, but the bold V front and centre of pack representing the female V-zone is a strong nod towards its brand purpose – bringing purpose and assets harmoniously together.

Bodyform Libresse packaging


Purpose and established assets working collectively – Persil’s ‘Dirt is Good’

A personal favourite I have to admit. It cut through the functional ‘whiter than white’ clutter at the time, is highly credible for the category and is relevant in so many ways. And while it has evolved as a campaign, Unilever has stuck to the core purpose unlike so many other brands that go off in search of the shiny and new…

Persil Dirt is good splat

The pack includes the line itself as well as bringing to life the playful interaction between a child and parent. But it is the distinctive splat asset behind the logo, introduced in 2011, that we feel is making the connection back to the brand’s purpose. 


Relying on assets to be more creative with purpose – Cadbury’s limited-edition purpose

Last but not least, we look at Cadbury and its recent campaign for Age UK, tackling loneliness amongst the over 65s. And fair play to the brand, it made the bold move of removing the words from its bars – donating them to the charity instead.

Cadbury donating words to Age UK

A lovely bit of feel good PR, a great cause (and connection to removing words) and also the chance to show how iconic and distinctive its pack colour is, as we all still instantly recognised the UK’s No. 1 chocolate.


So, there we have it. Brand assets and brand purpose do not have to be fused together. Both can work, but the best approach comes from knowing your target audience and what’s most relevant to your brand.

When you have a loyal customer base and mega bucks to spend on both, like Dove, they can exist in different rooms and it can work well. But, as seen with Persil and Bodyform, where there has been a deliberate attempt to develop new iconic brand assets that start to really support and tell the story of brand purpose, this can really work in favour of the brand and allow the brand to look more cohesive and coherent. Just be careful it doesn’t backfire…


If you'd like to discuss how to bring brand purpose to life through your packaging design, then please contact us at kate.bermingham@brandon-consultants.

Louise Kennedy