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The last few years has seen a surge of interest in the idea of brand purpose - the belief that global brands have a wider positive role to play in society and that embracing this will be an effective form of long-term marketing.

Since high positive feeling for a brand (relative to that brand’s market share) is a good predictor of share growth, there’s certainly something in the brand purpose concept. But like most ideas in marketing, it’s nothing new. Procter & Gamble’s Dawn brand of dishwashing liquid - the US market leader - has made doing good a theme in its advertising for decades.

It still does: a look at household cleaners on System1 Ad Ratings reveals that Dawn’s ads are consistently some of the highest scoring and most emotional ads in the category. Its top ad (4-Stars) builds on the idea that animal rescue workers use Dawn to clean baby ducks after an oil spill.

This fact dates back at least 15 years and has obviously been an emotional godsend for the brand. In a category that’s still dominated by product claims and message-driven advertising the bird rescue link lets Dawn stick to category codes but still break through emotionally.

One of the lessons of the System1 Ad Ratings database is that purpose-driven ads are often emotional winners, particularly in the US market. A lot of the time this is achieved by a charity tie-in - Budweiser, Ford and others have all aired ads considerably above their usual emotional range by going this route.

What makes Dawn such a good example of the cause-driven emotional ad is that it can achieve this uplift in a way that is completely congruent and fluent with the brand. Dawn has become one of the poster children for P&G’s “superiority strategy” - fewer brands but the best brands - and its market share has improved this decade from 40% to 50%. The baby ducks have certainly played their part.

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