Our agency sat down the other day to brainstorm about a promotion we’re launching. We discussed partnering with a charity to give the promotion some longer legs – a win-win scenario, one that not only increased the buzz around our clients, but also gave back to a worthy cause.
Of course, the next logical question was: which charity should we choose? We went around the room, each of us naming our preferred cause: fighting breast cancer, promoting children’s literacy, developing a malaria vaccine, saving the sea turtles – the list of charities went on and on. With so much need in the world, deciding where to begin was difficult.
We also needed to consider which one of these charities would best align with our campaign. Which charity would our audience most likely support, and what was the best way to compel our audience to get involved?
The entire discussion left me with an even bigger question – in order to achieve the greatest success, what comes first, the cause or the brand?
Branded philanthropy isn’t a new idea, but it has gained incredible momentum over the last couple of decades. It’s not hard to see why – a successful philanthropic campaign will not only create a major impact on the cause it supports, but it will ultimately increase a company’s profits, boost brand visibility and improve its image. Established brands like American Express, General Mills and Procter & Gamble were pioneers in the cause-marketing arena; according to Forbes.com, Yoplait’s “Save Lids to Save Lives” has raised more than $30 million for Susan G. Komen for the Cure over the last 13 years. Pampers’ “1 Pack = 1 Vaccine” initiative has provided 100 million women and infants with tetanus shots – and sold a whole lot of diapers.
But now let’s take a look at the new generation – a tidal wave of charity-driven consumer goods companies have burst onto the scene in recent years, most created for the sole purpose of benefiting one specific cause rather than the other way around.
One of the most obvious and successful examples: TOMS Shoes, the brainchild of a man who was so moved by shoeless children in Argentina that he built a company to help them. For every pair of shoes he sells, he donates one to a child in need. A simple formula: “buy one, give one.” And with no big brand advertising dollars behind him at the start, his personal story and passion for his cause, driven by a grassroots marketing, social media, and PR campaign – spread his message.
Several companies with a similar “buy one, give one” philosophy hatched soon thereafter. Eyeglass company Warby Parker donates one pair of eyeglasses for each one that is purchased. And through grassroots marketing, PR and social media, the “company that does good in the world” continues to build a solid brand while educating consumers about the 500 million people in the world who do not have proper vision care – and compelling them to help improve the situation. Another company with a “buy one, give one” concept, One Million Lights donates solar LED lights to areas in Africa, Haiti, and South America that have no electricity.
So to make the biggest impact, do we build the promotion around the charity or select the charity based on the promotion? While that’s still up for debate, what is clear is that whether it’s a shoe company helping kids, or a kid-helping company selling shoes, the key to success is a simple call to action coupled with a powerful story. (And a passionate team of PR people to tell it.)