A plug for the purpose-driven worker

Gillette’s recent ad about masculinity reflects a wider corporate desire to stand up for a cause as a way to earn the trust of workers demanding purpose in life.

This image from Gillette's Twitter account discusses the company's new advertisement invoking the #MeToo movement.

On Feb. 3, Americans will join in one of their favorite national pastimes – judging TV commercials during the Super Bowl. This year, if one ad released early by Gillette is any indicator, the commercials may be more than simply funny. They will be “purpose driven.”

Gillette’s 30-second “We Believe” commercial calls on more men to prevent harassment of women and to challenge “toxic” stereotypes of maleness. It has stirred similar debate as a Nike ad last year featuring Colin Kaepernick, the kneeling quarterback. Yet it has yet to fall flat like a recent Pepsi ad that was seen as using images of the Black Lives Matter movement only to sell more soda.

Surveys find corporate leaders increasingly believe they must stand up for a cause. The motive is not only better branding with consumers who want to associate with companies that align with their values. It may also be necessary to attract and retain younger workers.

More companies face rebellions from employees who disagree with their actions. Last fall, 20,000 Google workers walked off the job for a day to protest the way the company had dealt with cases of sexual misconduct. The demand was clear: You must earn our trust by showing what you stand for – other than making a profit.

All of this fits into a global trend. In a new survey of 28 countries about the levels of trust around the world, the communications giant Edelman found a profound change from previous surveys: People are putting far more trust in “my employer” to do the right thing in challenging times than they do in other institutions, such as media, government, and social activist groups. And a majority of employees say their employer is a trustworthy source of information about societal issues.

“People have low confidence that societal institutions will help them navigate a turbulent world, so they are turning to a critical relationship: their employer,” says Richard Edelman, the firm’s president and CEO.

Another survey done last year of American corporate leaders, conducted by GlobeScan and 3BL Media, found that advocacy by chief executive officers is on the rise. One big reason is to meet employee expectations.

Today’s C-suite executives must offer more than perks and pay to employees. Sports equipment retailer REI, for example, wants its 12,000 workers to be so close to the environment that it has closed its door on recent Black Fridays so employees can use the day to enjoy the outdoors.

The Edelman survey hints that more people seek a purpose in life – a calling beyond survival or profit-making. Employers are beginning to heed this desire. And more Americans may see it in the commercials during the 2019 Super Bowl.

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