Cause Marketing Forum Award Finalists

Next week cause marketers will descend on Chicago for their annual gabfest–The Cause Marketing Forum Annual Conference.

In conjunction with that, the organization gives out its annual Halo Awards recognizing “innovators” in the field. I thought this would be a good time to take a look at some of the finalists, which I will do over the next few weeks. Remember, what I am presenting here are considered the best in the category.

The first campaign that caught my eye was in the category of Best Digital Campaign. Feast for All was an advertising campaign for Pepto-Bismol which supported Feeding America. This campaign worked much like a Hamburger Helper (HH) campaign I write about in Compassion, Inc.–a celebrity (Beyonce) tells consumers to buy HH and money goes to pay for meals to help feed the hungry. In this case instead of consumers buying Pepto Bismol, they had to go to Facebook and “like” a turkey that had been prepared by “Modern Family” star Eric Stonestreet. (This campaign ran during November last year, which explains the turkey.)

“Feast for All” represents a continuing trend–using charities (and celebrities) as a way to build up corporate social media efforts and generate consumer research information. People are more likely to support causes that their friends are also interested in. You see when your friends “like” something on Facebook. It pops up on your page and you think, “Oh, Susie, likes Pepto and they’re giving food to the hungry and all I have to do is click a button. Ok. Cool.”

But is it?

Beyond the fact that this campaign turns human suffering into a sales pitch (and humorously at that), what the heck were the brand people thinking? Using a product related to eating too much to support a cause to feed people whose stomachs are hurting because they can’t get enough? Seriously? That’s like Susan G. Komen tying in with KFC–fast food being a leading contributor to obesity and in turn breast cancer.

Is this really the best that cause marketing can do?

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Other writings, other radio

Here’s a link to a blog called The Pg. 99 Test. It is built around the following quote: “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” –Ford Madox Ford

My posting for Compassion, Inc. is here.

As promised, click for the link to my discussion about cause marketing with Brian Lehrer.

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Earth Day, Green America and Groupon Grassroots

In honor of Earth Day, every company that could pulled out their sustainability banner.

A long-standing environmental organization with environmental bona fides is Green America. Through their Green Business Network, they certify companies that are committed to social and environmental responsibility believing that “Business can change the world.” They also product Green Festivals, and I attended their expo at the Javits Center in New York yesterday. It was heartening to see various sized businesses and some truly wonderful product ideas. My favorite was from a company called Artterro. They produce eco-friendly art projects for kids. The box itself becomes the frame for saving the child’s artwork. If you’ve ever bought a craft kit for a child and cringed as I have at the amount of plastic they contain, this is a much welcome relief.

Another Earth Day event: the launch of Groupon Grassroots. This is similar to the work of, which in this case allows individuals to donate small amounts of money to local schools. It is crowdsourcing to fund raise. Unlike donorschoose, the Groupon site broadens the charities being served beyond education.

My issue with Groupon is in the languaging of this. If you look at the picture, its says “Buy”. It doesn’t say donate . As I write in Compassion, Inc. as charity moves further and further into the world of consumerism it has serious social consequences–too many to outline here but issues I will be addressing over time.

I am glad to see that Groupon is doing something to generate funding for local organizations–truly. However, they should not have simply rejiggered the existing website template. Someone needs to re-think this so that the site fits the underlying social intention.

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CNBC’s Bullish on Books

Check out CNBC’s Bullish on Books. You can read my guest blog post here.

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Radio Appearances — Diane Rehm, Brian Lehrer

This week I appeared on the Diane Rehm Show. You can listen to the podcast here.

Coming up on Tuesday, I will be on the Brian Lehrer Show. I will be on at 11:30AM live. I’ll post the podcast when it becomes available.

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Social Innovation vs. Cause Marketing

Two articles in the New York Times this weekend highlight the idea of Social Innovation: “Hiring the Blind, While Making a Green Statement” and “Rethinking Recycling” (online it is titled: “Companies Pick Up Used Packaging, and Recycling’s Cost”)

SustainU produces clothing for colleges and universities using all-recycled materials. T-shirts and such are produced in a factory that is close to where the fabric is produced in order to cut down on energy costs, and the company’s workforce is made up of blind or visually impaired workers. In sum, the company is environmentally and socially conscious while producing a high quality product.

Alternatively, larger companies are rethinking the way that packaging is recycled. As municipalities are overwhelmed with payrolls they can’t meet and roads they can’t afford to fix, recycling has fallen down the list of priorities. In addition, consumers are demanding responsible recycling from product producers. In response, according to the Times:

A growing number of large food and beverage companies in the United States are assuming the costs of recycling their packaging after consumers are finished with it, a responsibility long imposed on packaged goods companies in Europe and more recently in parts of Asia, Latin America and Canada.

This isn’t just because of a sense of community commitment; it’s because it has become cheaper to produce an aluminum can from recycled materials than it is to do from scratch. The same will also soon be true for plastic bottles–an extremely important issue as they are a petroleum-based product. (Companies have also found a way to recycle yogurt cups and turn them into usable consumer products like toothbrushes.) And, companies may be trying to take their fortunes into their own hands before localities more strictly regulate recycling, as has already been done in states like Maine. Whether for cost savings or otherwise, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this is better for profits and the planet.

These ideas are part emblematic of Social innovation, which I define in Compassion, Inc:

Social Innovation represents a philosophical shift in corporate do-gooding. It is an integrated web of corporate responsibility, sustainability, strategic philanthropy, cause marketing and advocacy that is underscored by a holistic approach that embeds “doing good” into a corporation’s DNA.

The fundamental difference between this and Corporate Social Responsibility or cause-related marketing is that Social Innovation is NOT about reporting to the world what you are doing, or about advertising a product and using charity to help sell more of them. Rather, social innovation is about doing good and getting caught at it. (Granted, a major article in the New York Times is hardly getting caught, but the companies mentioned here were doing good work long before the reporters ever showed up.) It is about looking at how you do business and re-configuring processes to be authentic, customizable, transparent and sustainable–both from an environmental standpoint, but also for the long-term growth of the business.

This is the kind of “good works” that companies should be moving toward, not simply slapping a charitable logo on a product.

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Branding Nonprofits

In the new issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, there is an article called The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector. (Also see Harvard’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations)

I had two initial thoughts when seeing this article. First, I thought of the marketing and branding of religion–something that might broadly be considered part of the nonprofit realm. As I noted in Brands of Faith, religious organizations need to market, and more specifically brand, themselves in order to remain relevant in a society where we see 3000+ marketing messages per day. I see parallels here as many are opposed to faith branding, just as many might have qualms about nonprofit branding.

Second, I thought about what happened when the Komen Foundation fiercely protected its brand like a mother bear protects her cubs. Anyone using “(fill in the blank) for the Cure” found itself on the wrong side of a law suit (see the Huffington Post). Evidence, one would think, that the organization was taking itself too seriously and losing sight of its ultimate mission–to help alleviate cancer–and not to promote itself.

Thus, branding nonprofits in and of itself is not a bad thing; it might be quite good and the authors of the SSIR take a balanced approach in their thinking. I particularly like that they address trademark protection (Komen’s issue), under the concept of brand democracy.

Brand democracy requires a fundamental shift in the traditional approach to brand management. Organizations aspiring to brand democracy do not police their brands, trying to suppress unauthorized graphics or other representations of the organization, but strive instead to implement a participatory form of brand management. They provide resources, such as sample text and online templates, that all staff can access and adapt to communicate the mission, strategy, work, and values of the organization.

Much of what appears in the article, however, seems to be about integrated marketing communications (IMC) as applied to nonprofits. Again, that might be a good thing. My fear is that nonprofits might take on the mission to brand themselves so that can become big enough to co-brand with the for- profit sector. Let’s hope that is not the goal.

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Chipotle Gets it Right

Amid Adele’s landslide and the accolades for Whitney Houston, you might have missed the commercial for Chipotle Mexican Grill that aired during last night’s Grammy Awards.

As noted in the New York Times, the longform ad started as a short film shown first online and then in movie theaters. It is Chipotle’s first national advertising and while it sells the company and its food, it also asks viewers to download the music from the commercial (Willie Nelson singing “The Scientist”). Proceeds from the song will go to the Chipotle Cultivation Foundation, an organization that promotes sustainable farming.

I often write about companies that get cause marketing and CSR wrong. Chipotle is a company that gets it right. They are a flag bearer for social innovation–fully integrating the principles of their company into how they do business. Social innovation, unlike cause marketing and CSR, is a corporate strategy whereby companies are authentic, customizable, transparent and sustainable. Chipotle does all of these things.

For example and as evidenced by this marketing, the company is committed to sustainable farming. They have worked with local farmers to help them be able to increase their production in order to be a supplier to Chipotle. They have been successful in finding and cultivating suppliers so that most of the meat the company uses in their food is sustainable. But, not all of it. Does the company hide this fact? No, they practically scream it. You can go online and find where sustainable meats are available–and, more important for many folks, where they are not. (For more on Chipotle, I have an extensive case study on the company in Compassion, Inc.)

While I don’t as a rule like the idea of using the consumer marketplace as a way to generate charitable donations, in this case I make an exception. First, because the company is not asking you to buy their product (it’s not a burrito generating the funding), and second, because the campaign so fundamentally fits with the personality of the company while serving a bigger purpose.

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Komen and Planned Parenthood

Guest blogged on the Ms. Blog this week about Komen and their decision to defund Planned Parenthood.

Check it out.

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Charity by any other name

Cause marketing has traditionally targeted women–particularly moms–because of the emotional aspect inherent to them. Starving children, wide-eyed seals and any number of helpless beings have been used to pull the heartstrings of product purchasers. Me included.

A new trend is to target young people. This does two things for consumer product companies: 1) it introduces “charity” to young people, a virtue mothers want to instill in their offspring, and 2) it simultaneously reaches mothers who control the family purse strings.

A great example of this is a promotion that landed in my email today called Teens for Jeans. (Note: I am the mother of a 12-year-old.)

This campaign is a promotion with Aeropostale as the consumer/retail partner and as the charitable organization. As notes on their web site, 1 out of 3 homeless people in the U.S. is under 18 and in response Teens for Jeans was created and has donated 1.5 million jeans in the first 4 years of the campaign. Something we should applaud, for sure. Let me also say that overall I applaud the work of DoSomething. They have done good work to create awareness about the need for charity among teens and young adults.

Let’s, however, look at the subtler issues here. First, the mechanism for donating jeans is to take them to Aeropostale (or p.s. aeropostale) where you can get 25% off on your purchase. Thus, the donation becomes the means to get something for the donor. Second, the campaign asks that schools get involved. When schools sign up, they are competing to win $5000, a new pair of jeans for every student, and a party for the entire school. Again, the campaign is about giving something to the person making the donation. Finally, the copy in the email says, “Make a Difference. Help Fight Teen Homelessness.” While a pair of your gently worn jeans will benefit a homeless teen, it will not end homelessness–no matter what the marketing says.

In sum, the campaign is focused on the giver and not the receiver. What this does–as so many campaigns like this do–is it separates us from those in need. We don’t see the poor, we don’t see the homeless. We only see what we can get from our giving. Researchers fear that we will come to expect donations will provide us with recompense.

Will this help some people out? Yes, probably. Is this charity? I don’t think so, and I would suggest that it is socially detrimental for us to continue to think that it is.

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