Tag Archives: corporate philanthropy

To compost or not to compost

So, I was going to write an article about Frito-Lay/SunChips’ new biodegradable bag (which I purchased for the first time last week), and to initiate a discussion about whether or not, from a cause marketing point of view, the company has done a strategic job of leveraging their CSR efforts to their best business advantage.  But when I sat down to read up about SunChips’ marketing process, I learned that the biodegradable bag had been yanked due to noise levels!

Indeed, I noticed right away that the bag was noisy.  Like a freight train actually.  But as an environmentally concerned consumer, I felt good knowing that I could put the bag in my green bin. In fact – I wasn’t much of a SunChips enthusiast before the bag hit the shelves.  I bought the chips because of the bag.  And I suppose that was part of the company’s motivation for introducing a compost-able bag in the first place.  Again, as an environmentally concerned consumer, I was shocked that feedback over the bag’s noise level would have been enough to prompt an overhaul of SunChips’ heavily hyped and costly compost-able bag rollout. 

So what exactly is going on here?  Why all of the corporate flip-flopping around a fairly compelling and cutting-edge green packaging initiative?  My best guess is that Frito-Lay determined (after an assessment of focus groups and initial reactions) that the bottom line business gain resulting from their CSR efforts (after all, lots of folks like me would have probably continued buying the chips in spite of the noise) was going to be eclipsed by the broader public’s reaction to the bag’s noise level.  In other words, good business sense trumped the company’s interest in doing good

Frito-Lay is going to reintroduce a quieter version of their biodegradable bag soon enough, so they haven’t abandoned ship altogether.  But there is a fundamental lesson to be learned – that is, CSR efforts must be strategic.  They have to integrate with the bigger business picture.  They have to consider the needs and interests of target markets and corporate stakeholders.  In other words, while they have to be authentic, they ultimately have to help drive business (and certainly not undermine it). 

Sounds like basic stuff.  Also sounds like Frito-Lay learned the hard way.

Passion Points:

  • When considering a CSR or sustainability strategy, don’t lose sight of the business bigger picture
  • Consider the demographic of your key stakeholder groups – what are their priorities and interests, how will they react to your CSR platform?

The Humility Hurdle

Here’s a situation we’ve encountered a number of times. A business owner is very socially conscious and has actively brought that sensibility into the company. It has resulted in philanthropy or sustainability programs that are well developed and in some cases examples of best practice. Because of the owner’s personal ethos, there are many other aspects of the operation that in fact reflect exemplary CSR principles. These include promoting diversity, the support of charitable causes and ethical business practice.

However, when faced with a proposal to develop a more integrated and strategic CSR plan, the answer is a resounding no. Why? Because it will inevitably result in greater recognition for their socially responsible efforts – and she or he is uncomfortable with undue credit for what is considered to be “just doing the right thing.” In an age of seemingly unbridled corporate egotism, this is almost unbelievable but their enviable humility may be resulting in a disservice to their company and the community.

Perhaps the owner would relent if presented with some of the following benefits that could accrue if a CSR program was well built and strategically articulated.

The company’s employees would be better engaged. They would feel proud of working for a company that stands out, and they might share those feelings with prospective employees. They would be motivated to be a part of CSR efforts. Productivity, retention and the ability to attract top talent would grow.

Other companies will be encouraged to adopt similar practices. This would especially be true of supply chain partners.

There would be greater social outcomes. More organizations would benefit from more support – whether in money or time. In turn, this could result in more people being helped, fed or housed; in more treatment or even cures for those that are sick; or in greater advocacy, awareness and support for causes and communities.

The company could become more profitable. Consumer willingness to support brands that are more socially responsible has been well established. Even in B2B enterprises, buying decisions are increasingly influenced by CSR profiles.

While a CSR program will focus on the company’s efforts, it’s inevitable that some of the spotlight may be cast on the owner. Perhaps the solution lies in convincing him or her that overcoming the humility hurdle may ultimately be for the greater good.

Passion Principles

  1. CSR reporting should focus on the company or employee groups but not individuals.
  2. Consider the collateral benefits of establishing a CSR program
  3. Don’t underestimate the extent to which a well executed CSR program will drive business results.

Green and Generosity – 2 New Envy Trends

There are significant CSR implications in Statusphere, the latest offering from trendwatcher.com – one of the world’s leading consumer trends firms. Based on the premise that “consumers are finding increasingly diverse ways to get their status fix,” it identifies five new areas in which consumers are vying for bragging rights.

One of them is Generosity. Perhaps as a reaction to the impact of greed on the latest economic meltdown, giving now trumps owing as a mark of prestige. Not only are consumers feeling a need to express their more altruistic side, they want to share the experience with others. Giving circles, crowdsourced giving and collaborative giving models abound. Online initiatives that allow individuals to choose the beneficiaries of corporate philanthropy are becoming increasingly common.

As it relates to CSR, many companies are recognizing that corporate philanthropy alone isn’t enough. A more strategic approach dictates a path of stakeholder engagement where customers are an integral part of the giving program – helping to make making decisions and given an opportunity to share experiences. (See Pepsi’s Refresh Project)

Another area identified is “Green Credentials and Unconsumption.” Increasingly consumers are anxious to demonstrate their “eco-credentials” to their peers. The latest ecological symbols and obviously eco-friendly products are taking on the status previously reserved for labels like D&G, Coach and others. And ecologically friendly services (from landscaping to roofing to banking) are taking on the same appeal. Just as in the case of Generosity, consumers are seeking the forums to tell the world they are truly green with envy. The days of the gas guzzling SUV as a badge of accomplishment are gone. Hybrid is the new hot auto label as consumers try to outdo their peers by consuming less.

Most companies have recognized that the green plank is essential to any CSR platform. The truly enlightened players are providing stakeholders with products and services that can express both the company’s and the individual’s eco-interests. Moreover, they are providing ways for stakeholders to share the experience by becoming actively involved and expressing their opinions. (See TD Friends of the Environment)

Passion Points:

  • Meaningfully involve employees and customers in your company’s philanthropic efforts.
  • Make sure your communications plan trumpets their successes and provides the forums for them to share their experiences
  • Ensure that your company’s eco-initiatives are well publicized and well-known by employees.
  • Wherever possible include a respected eco-certification with your green products and services
  • Provide employees and consumers with ways to be active partners in your ecological or sustainability efforts.

Baggin’ CSR

I am a shameless handbag addict. It’s a silly vice, really. But handbags make me happy. And considering their functionality, I think that my addiction is perfectly acceptable.

In addition to all of the CSR and sustainability blogs that I read every day, I also allow myself 20 minutes each morning to indulge in The Purse Blog. And the recent post about Botkier’s generous move to donate 50% of revenues from the sale of their Joy Satchel to charity got me thinking. Can the world of CSR learn something from handbag manufacturers?

Botkier’s move notwithstanding, handbag designers have made some bold CSR decisions as of late. Louis Vuitton, arguably the world’s most iconic handbag designer, announced a few weeks ago that it had signed a five year agreement with SOS Children’s Villages to create a program called “Partnership for Children’s Futures”.  The partnership will help children who are orphaned, abandoned or whose families are unable to care for them.

Though it’s a generous move, I can’t help but find the alignment a bit strange – coming from a luxury mega-brand that charges upwards of $2,000 for some of their more basic designs. (think orphaned children in remote villages juxtaposed against the LV patchwork tribute bag – that retailed for $45,000). Perhaps LV identified mothers as a priority market, and mothers naturally care about children. In that sense, it’s a smart partnership.

Beyonce with a $45,000 LV Tribute Patchwork Tote

Beyonce with a $45,000 LV Tribute Patchwork Tote

Handbag designer Mat & Nat offers a collection of design-centric, eco-friendly, vegan handbags and their entire business model is built on a very solid and creative foundation of social responsibility. The linings of their current designs are all made from recycled water bottles, for instance.

So I think that my handbag indulgence has taught me valuable lessons that can be transferred to the professional world of CSR.

Passion Points:

• Giving back is a universal notion that has become a baseline standard even in luxury markets

• Think about causes that will resonate with your customers and target markets

• In a best case scenario, establish a business model that aligns seamlessly with a CSR mandate

Cause Splash vs Cause Marketing

The not for profit world has been abuzz in the past few weeks about a cause marketing campaign gone bad. While bloggers and pundits (here’s a good  example) have been quick to lambaste the charity for its lack of judgment, the real issue is that the company opted for cause “splash” and not more strategic cause marketing/CSR decisions.

Here’s the background. Susan G. Komen For The Cure – this is the organization that pioneered the pink ribbon campaign in support of breast cancer research – entered into a cause marketing initiative with KFC. In a program called Buckets for the Cure, KFC is donating 50 cents for every “pink” bucket of chicken sold and is aiming to make the largest-ever single corporation donation (over $8.5 million) to breast cancer research. The problem is that one week after launching the campaign, KFC introduced a new product called the Double Down sandwich  – two pieces of fried chicken, bacon and cheese. The critics jumped on KFC for promoting an extremely unhealthy food product that can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for breast cancer.

It is worth pointing out that despite furor in the blogosphere, to date the campaign has raised over $3.7 million and the website has inspired many people to share their breast cancer stories.

The real problem here is that KFC made a bad decision in its choice of cause marketing campaigns. The criticism of the campaign was foreseeable, particularly because KFC obviously knew when they were launching the Double Down sandwich. What’s even more striking is that the campaign doesn’t align with KFC’s business model. While it provides some temporary splash, in a year it will be forgotten because it really has nothing to do with what KFC does for a living. Contrast this campaign to other initiatives that are part of KFC’s CSR platform. The Colonel’s Scholars program provides scholarships enabling young people to go to college. This makes sense because KFC employs large numbers of high school students and the program aligns with founder Colonel Sanders’ legendary entrepreneurship; it focuses on “dreams and aspirations, and the perseverance to succeed.” KFC’s Animal Welfare Program is also well aligned providing expert oversight of the company’s practices and a supply chain component that includes farm audits.

Other examples of recently announced cause marketing campaigns illustrate the power of aligning with the corporate business model. Huggies (the diaper brand) has launched a program/site called HuggiesMomInspired.com through which it will provide venture capital to entrepreneurial moms.  Read more about it at http://bit.ly/d7QXty.  Barnum’s Animal Crackers recently launched a campaign that will see them raise funds to protect the endangered Asian tiger and raise awareness about endangered species.

Well-aligned cause marketing campaigns are more powerful because they become part of an integrated Corporate Social Responsibility platform. They provide greater opportunities for stakeholder engagement and are more enduring. Ultimately, they enhance the brand while allowing businesses to be good corporate citizens.

Passion Points

  • Cause marketing campaigns should align with your business model and should be just one element in an integrated and strategic CSR approach.
  • The most effective causes will relate to the products that you sell, the service that you provide, your articulated business philosophy or perhaps even personal philanthropic efforts of owners/executives.
  • Ensure that any upcoming marketing efforts won’t diminish the impact of prospective cause marketing campaigns.
  • Choose cause marketing campaigns that provide opportunities for employee engagement.