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  • Writer's pictureRuth Palmer

The Power of Purpose: Who Gives a Crap's Journey to a Magnetic Brand

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Few brands are a better example of the power of a purpose-driven brand to elevate a product out of the commodity space than Who Gives a Crap. With a social following of over 300k, Andrex UK’s following of 8k pales in comparison, despite making good efforts to be a good brand. Andrex have donated 1 million toilet rolls to In Kind Direct to help people in the UK who are experiencing “hygene poverty”. So, it’s clearly not only a brand’s purpose that drives a tribal following.

We have our own hypothesis on what makes a brand “magnetic” and we’ll be exploring that with a series of podcasts with magnetic purpose-driven brands. But for now, our hypothesis goes like this:

Magnetic brands share 4 things.

  • They provide their tribe with something to believe in

  • They have a powerful storyteller; with a strong, recognisable personality

  • They use the power of design to stand out and delight, transforming the brand experience

  • They build a motivated tribe armed with tools to help them spread their stories

So how did Who Gives a Crap do it?

Let’s start with something to believe in.

Who Gives a Crap began with a very clear purpose: How can we help give access to toilets to the many humans across the world who don’t have them. According to their website, 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. The desire to make a difference is what drove them in the early days, and still does today, with a whopping 50% of its profits going to charities who help build toilets.

Who Gives a Crap have sold over 300 million rolls of toilet paper since they started in 2012 and donated 11 million Australian $ to charity. They had their first fundraising round in 2021 and raise $40 million.

In the podcast Secret Leaders, Stephen Griffiths says

“We are trying to build the Kimberly Clarke for good…If we could show that a business like ours could generate social impact at scale whilst also generating financial returns for shareholders at scale, then we think we could attract more entrepreneurs and investors into this space.”

The WGAC team getting hands on with WaterSHED and WaterAid

A big vision like this drives a lot of passion and loyalty internally, giving each employee their own sense of purpose in the world by being part of the company's in incredibly motivating. This spreads outwards too, with that sense of purpose being adopted by your customers. If you see yourself as a person who cares about the environmental and social issues Who Gives a Crap are targeting, then buying their brand re-affirms your identity in your own mind, and projects that outwardly too. The bold designs make that statement very visible too.

WGAC instagram story

The product is the physical manifestation of the purpose. The paper used in Who Gives a Crap rolls is GOOD paper. It’s 100% recycled or made from bamboo. The rolls are fat and long, to save waste, and there’s no plastic wrapping.

But toilet paper is a really boring product, and you need to sell a lot of it to make an impact, so how do you stand out to make that happen? The purpose drives part of this, but there’s more to a purchase decision, enter…

The power of design

The experience with the Who Gives a Crap brand makes you feel good because you are doing good, but also because it’s FUN! The design of the packaging and the messaging really make the product stand out in a largely homogenous category.

What your favourite roll says about you

The brightly patterned rolls look great in your bathroom, and they make you smile. People take pride in stacking their beautiful rolls prominently in the bathroom so they get noticed.

WGAC toilet rolls on trolly

In retail the distinctive design, absent of fluffy puppies or streaming silk, really stands out. The environmental message is prominent, implying (no pun intended) that the others are perhaps not so environmentally brilliant. This positions Who Gives a Crap as the good brand, for good people, the name itself going a long way to achieving that. With as little as 3 seconds to grab a consumer’s attention span in the supermarket, design and language can really make or break success.

WGAC retail packaging

In our house the rolls have become part of all kinds of kids games, from pyramid stacking, bowling to stilt walking (yes, really, don’t make me explain) in the process weaving their way into our daily lives in a way another brand could never do. If they looked boring, this simply would not happen.

WGAC toilet rolls make a road for toy cars

Who Gives a Crap excels in bringing delight to the customer experience. This was not by accident, it was designed in. When they started the company, the team mapped the user experience in detail, asking “how might we” questions throughout to see where they could innovate. The question "how might we delight people with the experience of toilet roll" resulted in the idea of creating fun designs for each roll.

Why is this so important? Because it flips the narrative from being all about US to being all about YOU. With a purpose-driven brand, it's very tempting to get stuck in the story of "this is a serious problem, we all need to focus on solving it" - in other words it can feel quite pious. But if you want people to buy your stuff, there's got to be something in it for them too.

A powerful storyteller

The storyteller takes a few different forms:

  • The founder or spokesperson

  • The stories that they and the brand tells

  • The brand’s personality

The founder or spokesperson

The three founders, Simon Griffiths, Danny Alexander Jehan Ratnatunga launched an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign in 2012, during which co-founder Simon Griffiths sat on a toilet in a warehouse for 50 hours until they raised enough money to make their first production order: $50k.

Simon Griffiths on the toilet for Indegogo crowdfunding

The founders aren’t afraid of getting in front of the camera, telling their story and talking about their vision, and they’re passion is contagious. It’s hard to get that viral buy-in without someone up out front banging the drum.

Simon Griffiths from WGAC

The stories that they and the brand tells

Who Gives a Crap's storytelling is mostly split into two categories, impact and fun. Quirky and irreverent, social posts feature people proudly arranging their toilet paper in their bathrooms, comparisons of their designs to the latest runway fashions and quizzes to “spot the filmic bathroom.”

WGAC Fashion week social post

The pop-out top of the tissue boxes have statements like “hey, take the day off” and “even cats think you’re great.” The messaging is irreverent and fun, despite the serious problem they are trying to solve through sales of the product. Every detail of the brand oozes “do good, be nice, have fun”. Even the packing slip attached to the outside of the box reads “This is an all paper envelope - saving our planet” - so much to feel good about!

WGAC tissues

Plus, there's a lot of stuff about cats; they must be tapping into the algorithm there.

On the impact side, their instagram stories and posts are packed with bite-sized information teaching their audience about why toilets and toilet paper are so important, and the ways in which they have had an impact, in a way that is light enough to be absorbed and easily shared. They also feature, very real, hand held video footage from the founders talking about what they are doing to help build toilets and reduce plastic waste. It’s a really effective way of building trust and connecting on an emotional level with their audience.

The brand’s personality

The brand’s personality is full of fun and life. It’s about doing good, feeling good and having fun along the way. The language used on the packaging and in comms is a little bit cheeky, very real, very conversational and actually very Australian, which is where the brand hails from. The chatty style enables a conversation around this serious issue in a way everyone is comfortable with and can embrace. They aren't afraid of calling out bad behaviour, allbeit in a jokey toilet-humour kind of way. They act as a fun moral guide to their audience, with their "let's un-crap that" social posts, which, as they are about current issues or popular culture, are very shareable. This personality would definitely own the room and fill it with colour and enthusiasm, they are really all about doing the right thing, being "striaght up" and having fun. This ia a brand who is very clear on who they are and who they're talking to.

Let's uncrap that social posts

A motivated tribe

The Who Gives a Crap brand has spread almost entirely by word of mouth. Even today, WOM is their best means of adopting new customers.

In the early days people would literally give their friends a toilet roll and tell them about what the brand was doing. Nowadays people stumble across the brand in their friends’ bathrooms, or come across something fun shared on social media. Early on they supplemented organic WOM with facebook ads to increase their growth.

The Who Gives a Crap brand invites you to be part of their tribe through their friendly, approachable and fun tone of voice. By signing up to Who Gives a Crap you are not just buying toilet paper, you are joining a movement of people who care about the planet, and like to have fun.

This is not a toilet roll you hide in the cupboard.

The bright, bold designs are proudly displayed as a badge of allegiance and a sign that you are a good egg, and they’re a great conversation starter too. When you spot them in a friend’s house, or a cafe toilet, your inner voice says “ah, they’re one of us, they must be a good egg like me” The brand is representing values that you hold dear, and as a customer, by buying this brand, you are telling the world what you care about and what kind of person you are. This is where the motivated part kicks in. If a brand can connect through shared values, then people will be more likely to share your message, becasue by doing so, they are elevating their own social status as someone who has these beliefs.

WGAC bathroom shot

The conversation doesn’t end at the end of the roll either... the inner toilet roll asks the question “bored on the loo?” Then sends you to a webpage with random facts to read on all displayed written on sheets of toilet roll of course.

Partnerships with artists, makers and other groups for a bit of fun, are another way the brand builds its tribe and its brand at the same time. Recently Who Gives a Crap partnered with Art Life Journal, who make amazing hand tufted rugs. They made a toilet mat with “nice bum” boldly emblazoned on it as part of a giveaway competition. There are many many examples of these kinds of collaborations, this is a very social brand.

WGAC and Art Life Journal colab - Nice bum rug

The fact that this is a purpose-driven subscription-based purchase ties you into the brand for the long term; because if you cancel your membership, just like if you cancel a regular payment to a charity, what you’re really saying is that you don’t give a crap. Genius.

Part of building a motivated tribe is bringing your customer along the journey with you, so they feel like they are part of the thing you are trying to change (and will forgive you when you make mistakes).

Who Gives a Crap’s first product had a bit of a major flaw - it had no perforations, so you couldn’t tear the pieces off… but, because their brand was built on purpose, and they were open and honest about their mistake, it didn’t break the brand, people gave them a second chance.

To get people so excited about toilet paper is quite an achievement, and just goes to show, any brand can benefit from leaning on purpose to magnetise their brand, but you need to pull on more than the purpose lever.

Who Gives a Crap are fulfilling a need to be part of a tribe of people who care, but also who want to have fun and appreciate design. They are delivering on purpose, which makes people feel good for doing good, but there are other emotional needs at play here, like belonging, expression, self-actualisation of values and fun.

What is your purpose? What emotional needs are you fulfilling with your brand? How does your brand make people feel?

To dig into this, try out our Ikigai for founders LITE free Miro board and email guide, which helps you answer some of the big questions that help you build a magentic brand. Sign up here.

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