Container Store

On the back page of today’s NY Times, there was an ad for The Container Store under the headline WE STAND FOR more than just fabulous closets!

This advertisement was to promote the company’s participation in what they are calling Conscious Capitalism, and what I assess to be flimsily cloaked cause marketing.

The way the campaign works is this:

1) Employees came up with a one word description of The Container Store. For each word they submitted, the company donated a $50 Store More Card to the nonprofit of their choice. (I suspect that’s a gift card to The Container Store–the ad doesn’t explain that, they assume you’d already know.)
2) Now consumers can help nonprofits by filling out a form with their name and email address and a name of a nonprofit they would like to support. They are supposed to bring the entry form into a store. If their submission is chosen, the nonprofit will receive “$1000 cash PLUS and a $1000 elfa Makeover with installation.”

This is a prime example of a campaign serving the corporation more than it serves the nonprofit. I have to assume that not every nonprofit needs a closet makeover. Moreover, consumers have to go to a store to submit their entry–all while providing their name and email to the company which enables them to develop a database. Finally, the languaging in the ad is all about serving their “stakeholders”–a term usually confined to business discourse which makes me think this is more for the business community than the community at large. (To learn more, you can go to What We Stand For.)

And, truly, can you think about The Container Store without thinking about plastic? The company has a link for their environmental initiatives and they are including more sustainable products in their line. For this I applaud them.

However, if I had to pick one word to describe The Container Store given the current campaign, it would have to be SELF-SERVING.

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Roozt and Bubbs — A new trend in doing good…but I’m still not sure it is

Two new websites have been brought to my attention that ask people to buy products and through the purchase of these products they are giving back to the world.

The first is Roozt. According to their website:

At Roozt, every purchase makes a diffference. All featured brands are fashion-forward companies that are making a positive impact in their community, environment, with their employees, or with humanity as a whole. Our team of experienced curators hand selects only the best, most trendsetting brands that give back so you can enjoy a streamlined shopping experience while saving time and money.

We’re a group of passionate social entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs!) who fundamentally believe that we can make a difference in the world by harnessing the power of a business model. There are literally thousands of brands that have integrated inspiring causes into their business model that we think you should know about, and we’re on a mission to make sure you do!

The site is pretty neat in that each product has a Roozt rating so buyers can see in what way the product is sustainable, ethical, how it gives back to the community and so on. While it still is in the consumerist model, this site is worthy further investigation.

The other site is bubbs. What they say is this:

Why we exist At bubbs, our goal is to connect you to brands that give back, and by doing so, change the way you shop. We believe in the power of purchase. If we are able to harness this power we can use it for good. That’s why every single product featured on bubbs gives back to an area of global need.

What makes us different We believe 100% of your money should go towards the causes that you choose. That’s why bubbs connects you directly to the brands’ page without taking a cut. We find other ways to pay for our expenses. Join the movement.”

The site displays items in boxes with a short description underneath including the price and and explanation about how the product is “good”. The purchase goes to “water related causes” or “helps empower women in marginalized communities.” When you click on these pictures you go to the site of the organization selling the product. Some are more straightforward than others in explaining how the purchase is providing a benefit.

Bubbs is still in beta, so they are still trying to work out the kinks. One thing I would suggest is taking a tip from Roozt and seeing if there can be some consistency and transparency around how buying a product is helping someone other than the consumer and the marketer.

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October is coming and so is all the Pink

In anticipation of October–no longer the month associated with leaves changing to yellow and orange and red but rather the month of breast cancer awareness and pink, Pink PINK–marketers are already beginning to tout their association with Susan G. Komen and other breast cancer organizations.

The latest is Atlantis–a rather expensive family vacation resort in the Bahamas.

To find out the specifics, go to the Komen website.

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Is Victoria Secret intentionally trying to mislead consumers?

I recently got an email from Victoria Secret with the subject line: Go PINK or Go Home. This immediately made me think of Pink Ribbons and breast cancer fundraising. What solidified that thinking was that the email promoted the Pink NFL Collection. As many are well aware, the NFL has a longstanding associated with pink ribbons. (See below.)

However, this email had nothing to do with breast cancer or red ribbons. It was merely to promote the company’s PINK line of clothing–a line they’ve had for many years.

While the blurring of this message may not intentional, it is definitely a decided coincidence.

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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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Soul Cycle, Supermodels and Charity, Oh My!

This morning, I got an email for a cause marketing event that was offensive on more levels than I can begin to address.

Soul Cycle–the extremely over-priced spinning studios that cater to celebrities and have nothing to do with faith or religion–is having a fundraising ride on the Upper East Side of New York. The email read:

Good Morning SoulCyclists,

Tonight’s the night!! It’s your chance to ride alongside VICTORIA’S SECRET ANGELS for a ride that benefits Pelotonia, a charity with one aim: to end cancer. This inspirational ride will take place at 7:30 PM on East 83rd St (get ready for blacklights and disco balls!) with 100% of the proceeds going directly to charity. And, if that weren’t enough, Victoria’s Secret has committed to matching every single dollar raised! There are just a few bikes left so you better snatch them up while you can!

Strength. Style. SOUL. SUPERMODEL.

See you on a bike!

If Victoria Secret really wanted to do something for cancer, why don’t they provide special bras to women with breast cancer? That would be make far more sense. And, who are we kidding. Are women going to be paying to sit next to a bunch of supermodels? I doubt it.

If you are interested, the price of admission is $2,500. (The $1,500 and $2,000 seats are already sold out.) If you’ve got the money and sweating next to supermodels is what you think of as a good way to raise money, you can sign up here.

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Celebrity Underwear for Charity

Rugby player, Ben Cohen, has started a foundation to stop bullying, particularly against the LGBT community according to the NY Times. As the article readily notes, Mr. Cohen is straight–married with twins.

Cohen gained a gay following when posing for an underwear company. Rather than ignoring this as many athletes have, he embraced these fans. As news stories increased about gay bullying, and worse gay suicides among teens and college students, he felt compelled to help stop it.

Thus, he created Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation. To support the work of the foundation, he is selling underwear–the source of his connection to this cohort.

So why is this better than other campaigns that attach a consumer purchase to a cause? Simple. This product is being sold by the cause. The attention remains on the cause. In cause marketing, the charity plays second fiddle to the consumer product–sure we see the pink ribbon, but we’re buying the $200 Tory Burch pink puffer jacket.

I applaud Mr. Cohen for his foundation and this was a good way to get publicity. My hope is that he will ultimately move on to other ways to fund his good work.

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33voices Interview

Here’s a conversations I had with Moe Adbou of 33voices. This is a terrific site that presents the latest thinking about how to do good within a corporate setting. It’s not yet available, but a transcript of the conversation is forthcoming. Enjoy!

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Radio Appearance on Lanigan and Malone

Had an opportunity to chat with Lanigan and Malone in Cleveland yesterday. Feel pretty special that I was on the same day as Joan Rivers!

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Read a book. Give a book.

Combining the joy of reading with the power of helping others. That is the tagline for a wonderful literacy program called We Give Books. It was created under the auspices of Penguin Books and the Pearson Foundation.

As it says on their web site:

We Give Books is a new digital initiative that enables anyone with access to the Internet to put books in the hands of children who don’t have them, simply by reading online.

Books available online are for readers (and to-be readers) under 10 years of age. They or their caregiver reads a book, and in turn a book is donated a literacy charity of their choice. We Give Books, thus, promotes reading to youngsters while teaching them about helping others. It’s a win-win.

This concept is not new. Freerice, for example, asks visitors to its site to answer questions on a range of topics from vocabulary to math to the humanities. There’s even an SAT prep section! Each correct answer generates a donation of 10 grains of rice through the World Hunger Programme.

We Give Books is good social innovation: it is authentic to the business that the companies are in (publishing), and it is transparent (1,032,485 books have been read to date). Moreover, it doesn’t connect the charity to a consumer purchase.

Support this group…and go read a book!

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