If you are an owner and CEO and feel genuinely concerned about a cause whether or not it fits with your product, go for it—but you have to communicate the story of why you are involved in something that may not seem like a natural fit. Only you, the person with passion, can make the case for your company’s involvement with a cause. For all other initiatives, there must be a readily identifiable synergy of objectives and values between brand and cause. This is why engagement with charitable programs has to be treated like any other brand development. Does the cause fit with your core mission, and will it appeal to your brand’s demographic and consumer segment? This is not a cynical question to ask, it’s a smart one when it comes to public relations and brand.
An effective example of a well-matched cause and company is The Body Shop’s 2018 campaign to end animal testing in cosmetics globally through a massive petition initiative, which eventually made its way to the United Nations. The campaign reinforced the company’s commitment to stand against animal testing. It reminded consumers that its products are never tested on animals, and encouraged consumers to only purchase products that incorporate the Leaping Bunny Logo, a sign that the product is not tested on animals. All brands that meet this goal can use the logo, and all of The Body Shop’s products proudly sport the logo on the packaging.
Global clothing brand Zara designed and manufactured face masks for donation and for sale during the coronavirus outbreak, donating more than 300,000 masks to patients and health care workers.
Nike is another clothing manufacturer that produced needed PPE to medical professionals combating coronavirus. It worked with the Oregon Health & Science University to design and manufacture full face shields and respirator lenses. The equipment put some of Nike’s existing materials to use in the equipment, including collar padding used for shoes and cords used for sweatshirts and hoodies.
Patagonia’s cause campaigns always support the brand’s stated environmental vows. All of its profits from its Black Friday sales in 2016 were donated entirely to local environmental NGOs. Its counter-intuitive “Don’t buy this jacket” campaign raised awareness about the environmental and economic dangers of “fast fashion” and the importance of recycling clothing.
McDonald’s helped endangered birds and bees in Scandinavia by placing 1,400 hardwood nest boxes that look like the iconic red Happy Meal boxes in Finland forests, where 33-percent of bird species are at risk. McDonald’s locations across Finland will offer free nest box kits with each Happy Meal purchase. The units are designed to shelter birds from predators. “Even the smallest families will have a place to eat together,” this video explained the project asserts.
Another campaign that may not look like obvious synergy but was in fact effective, was spirit maker Maker’s Mark’s partnership with One Warm Coat, a charity committed to providing free coats to people in need. Maker’s Mark “Give Cozy, #GetCozy” Truck Tour engaged people on the ground, at event locations in real-time, but through multiple social media events. The idea, which took place during the winter holiday season, was designed to show that it’s not necessary to buy expensive gifts or throw extravagant parties to spread holiday love and cheer. The tour collected and donated pre-owned coats, traveling 2,100 miles through seven states.
The company gave out more than 5,000 cups of hot chocolate and 3,500 cookies to those who visited their roving coat trucks. Most importantly, Makers Mark and One Warm Coat donated over 20,000 coats to people in need. The campaign received more than 26 million impressions across a variety of social media platforms, resulting in 40,000 new followers for Maker’s Mark. A campaign combining clothing and a spirit maker may not seem like a natural fit—but during holiday time it makes sense, as people think about both celebrating and giving back. While Maker’s Mark is not a coat maker, the initiative did fit in with the values of the company.
The author, Dara A. Busch, is Co-President of 5WPR, a leading PR agency.