Run 10 Feed 10 — Is this any way to feed the hungry?

I learned through many years of marketing that if a campaign strategy starts to lose its effectiveness, put a bunch of strategies together and maybe you can begin to move the sales needle again.

That must be the thinking behind the new cause marketing campaign called Run 10 Feed 10, which combines corporate marketers with celebrities (a popular tool) and a publisher and a charitable foundation and a celebrity-based social media fundraising site. This campaign is highlighted by Stuart Elliott in today’s New York Times advertising column.

For this particular initiative, Unilever (prominently displayed on the 10/10 website) in conjunction with Women’s Health (also prominently displayed) have come together with a number of celebrities, such as Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale, Leelee Sobieski, Kerry Washington and Allison Williams, to promote a race which raises money for the Feed Foundation.

As is usual with cause marketing campaigns, the premise seems simple enough: register to run in a 10K race and 10 meals will be provided to hungry people in your community.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Let’s break it down:

What brands/corporations are cloaked in goodwill with this event: Unilever brands Degree Women, Ragú, Simple and Vaseline, Women’s Health magazine (and its corporate siblings, Men’s Health and Runner’s World magazines), DeBeers diamonds, the Gap division, Starbucks, and Summer’s Eve.

Money spent on the campaign: According to the Times, Women’s Health spent between $500,000 and $1 million “to get the initiative up and running.” In addition, Unilever is buying “14 advertising pages in six to eight issues of Women’s Health this year, at an estimated cost of $1 million.”

To understand what the marketers really think you have to look at this quote by the publisher of Women’s Health:

“A cause is great,” Ms. Frerer-Schmidt said. “You have to make it sexy, too.” (They are making the cause sexy by having a celebrity pasta loading dinner the night before the race–the hypocrisy of that vis-a-vis raising money for the hungry is a corporate snafu at best.)

The truth is this: Cause marketing is about making consumers feel good about buying the products they use. In the case of athletic challenges, they also provide justification for women (mostly) to take the time to do something healthy for themselves. (“I’m not just running for me; I’m running for the hungry people in my community.”) I write extensively about this in Compassion, Inc. so I’m not going to reiterate it here. Just know that there is lots of evidence that this is not an efficient way to raise charitable funding and it’s more about promotion–the corporation and the charity–than anything else. Moreover, cause campaigns give free promotion and marketing research to the companies sponsoring event through their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Think about it. Aren’t you more likely to share a link because you think it is going to raise money for charity than you are to simply share a link to a product site? Add to that, you are likely to share your photos from the race, which are also covered in sponsor logos.

Looking at the website for the event, it states:

What if all you had to do to make a change in the lives of the people living in your city was RUN? This fall, that’s exactly what we’re asking you to do. Run a 10K with Women’s Health and you will instantly provide 10 meals for those going hungry in your local and surrounding neighborhoods.

Running alleviates hunger. Really!?!?!

I’ve seen elsewhere that Feeding America will provide a meal for the hungry for 18 cents. If the Feed Foundation works under a similar economic structure than if we multiply that by 10, and it costs less than $2 to provide 10 meals. However, it costs participants $40 to enter the race. Of course, with that entry fee they get a limited edition feed bag. What it cost Women’s Health to produce them is unknown.

While a lot of money is being thrown around, we don’t really know how much is going to the Feed Foundation. If Women’s Health and Unilever gave the $2 million spent on creating this event to the charity, it would certainly go a long way to alleviating hunger.

Please do help feed the hungry. It’s easy to do through the Feed Foundation web site. You can also raise money for them through Crowdrise, a web site created by Edward Norton that uses crowdsourcing and celebrity to raise money for charities and is another sponsor of this event. (I like Crowdrise and I’ve noted this elsewhere.)

Support charity as many ways as you can. Even sign up for this race if you want to. Just know that if you participate in an athletic event like a race or walk- or a bike-athon, it is likely a very inefficient way of raising money, and it is doing more for the corporate sponsors than it is for the hungry and the homeless.

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