cause for concern

March 26, 2011 ·

right now, CSR or causal campaigns are the "campaign du jour" for many brands. it's a noble pursuit, but i think it's misplaced and as such, it's being done wrong - for the most part. what i see is that companies and brands are attaching themselves to causes because it's a trend they should pursue in order to ingratiate themselves with consumers who are leading said trend, but ultimately are falling short of bona fide good intentions.

social media is obviously the impetus behind the exploration of this new territory. as a first point of contention, i think a lot of the reason for doing CSR with social is because brands really haven't figured out other ways to activate a brand in the social space properly and causal is an easy avenue. so often times the true benevolence is shallow. that leads to the main issue in that the altruism of these efforts isn't completely embedded with the organization, it's just marketing.

to date, most of these causal campaigns are being constructed where the brand will do something if consumers engage. all fine and well, but that puts the onus on consumers and wrongly so. it's faux corporate activism in this way. instead, brands should be doing it anyway and using the consumeers as the amplification, reversing how it's currently constructed. the way i interpret it is "if you do this we'll contribute, but it's contingent on you.' with the subtext that, "if we don't do as good a job, it's your fault but also that if you don't contribute, we aren't going to either." layered on top of that is a layer of consumer engagement where they do something fun, cute, clever, customized, or otherwise mostly superficial as a wrapper to slacktivism.

i won't single anyone out, we've all seen them and rolled our eyes a bit in skepticism. i won't pretend to know the inner-workings and people involved and pass judgements. i will call attention to a pair that i think are doing it half right.

Quaker just recently finished their "Unlock Amazing" program on Facebook. the gist of it is that for each customized bowl a person creates, a donation of breakfast is made. it's simple enough; low involvement always works. their stated goal is to have 25K bowl contributions equaling 2 million breakfasts. they started by donating a million right off the bat and asked consumers to fill the rest. good start, but wrong positioning. there's something a little wrong with that. beyond that, wall posts from the brand, focused on upping the bowl count and encouraging people to make more bowls. good motivation, but the wrong motivation. from what i can tell, they had to open the bowl creation from once a week to once a day. to me, that implies they wanted to limit the bowls donated (not too many bowls they would have to donate form their coffers) and that they might not meet the goal and looking evil by not donating at least to the intended amount.

as one idea on where to take it, show the actual company/brand involvement in dispensing these bowls or how their own employees stand behind the cause and are actively pursuing it. engage the community in how to further raise awareness, grow the contribution, actually participate in getting the bowls to those in need and sharing the experience.

the other is Campbell's Nourish. again, very worthy cause and they have the same approach of starting with a base of 100,000 cans and looking to donate 100K more. it's not really clear how; i assume by just 'liking' the page or video. low involvement, good, but still misses. the socialness of it isn't strong, the stories behind what the company is 'actually' doing are limited to a 2 minute video. Still missing the true corporate involvement. still question why they are limiting it to just another 100,000 cans to donate instead of just opening it up and donating what the people will (i understand their are manipulations that could happen, but really who cares).

the edge definitely goes to Quaker though. they had a fun engagement in the bowl creation and sharing so that helps it spread and be shared in a more interesting way. the Nourish piece is very staid and there isn't that fun layer to add to the proceedings so i'm not as compelled to share.

again, it's a good thing these companies and the others are trying to do, i'd just like to see it done more altruistically and less campaign-y. it's a big shift, i know, so i can't expect it be perfect form the get-go but i would expect more legitimacy.

if a brand truly wants to create a sense of benevolence and goodwill with consumers so that they'll like them, then they need to be doing it anyway, not just when a short term campaign strikes using some social media gimmick to appear as such. if you're brand was going to donate a million bucks if you got 10,000 likes or something superficial like that. instead, already be donating the million bucks but the involvement is the additional to that. right off, you've already given consumers a laudable reason to be involved and not just another marketing campaign with a thin veil of interactivity. no, you're already showing that you're doing good and now you want to do more, but you need their help.

the most famous example right now in corporate benevolence must be Pepsi with their 'Refresh Project.' i think they got it three quarters right. they are putting up the money and providing the facilities to dispense the good, but stepping away. mostly, it was just a redistribution of funds. it doesn't mean the company is actually that benevolent or altruistic. it's over to the accountants now. i haven't seen how they continue to draw attention to it, magnify it, really get behind any of the winners, or create stories around the Pepsico employees getting more involved.

social media is new. deep consumer involvement around causes using social media is new. perhaps this is just the tip of the iceberg and the further understanding will come on doing it 'right.' i hope so because we don't need just another marketing angle or gimmick, we need a new corporate involvement paradigm.

what have you seen that's been a good approach or a bad approach? what would you have done differently?




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