“Finding Your Perfect Match: What Social Issue Should Your Corporation Marry?” – Nancy Lee
Imagine a world where the more than 50,000+ multinational corporations, or even the 500 largest in the world married a social issue (not just date), and then focused philanthropic support on that single issue. Each could find their best match and something unique to concentrate on, some effort that would improve health, prevent injuries, protect the environment, enhance financial well-being, and build stronger communities. This is similar, in the marketing world, to selecting a target audience and allocating a disproportionate share of resources to appeal to and retain an attractive market segment. If major corporations selected and stuck with one social issue over time, we would see a strong relationship creating real social change. (Back to the “marrying” analogy, this would create a family and future generations that sustain the legacy.)
Six Marketing and Corporate Social Initiatives that Build a Better World … and the Bottom Line
Each of the six initiatives will first be defined and then illustrated by an example from Starbucks. In 2008, Starbucks established a set of ambitious global responsibility goals that would have the greatest impact on the environment, a social issue they remain focused on today. Read on to see how this focus provided priorities for their initiatives.
Marketing-Driven Initiatives: These three are developed and managed primarily by the corporation’s marketing function.
- Cause Promotions are where “a corporation provides funds, in-kind contributions, or other corporate resources to increase awareness and concern about a social cause or to support fundraising, participation, or volunteer recruitment for a cause.”(Kotler et al., p. 22.) The corporation may be a major partner in this effort or may initiate and manage the promotion on its own. An example for Starbucks is their effort to promote the importance of recyclability of cups, encouraging the food industry to serve beverages in either reusable or recyclable containers. One venue for this has been Cup Summits that they have organized (three to date), bringing together government officials, raw material suppliers, cup manufacturers, retail and beverage businesses including competitors, and others to explore more sustainable materials and design. (Kotler et al., p. 26.)
- Cause-Related Marketing is where “a corporation links monetary or in-kind donations to product sales or other consumer actions. Most commonly, this offer is for an announced period of time and for a specific product, and for a specified charity.” (Kotler et al., p.22.) Ethos® Water, sold in Starbucks stores, was created in 2002 to help support water, sanitation and hygiene education programs in water-stressed countries. In 2005, Starbucks acquired the company and for every bottle sold from their stores, Starbucks contributes five cents to the Ethos Water Fund, which is part of the Starbucks Foundation. (Kotler et al., p. 27.)
- Corporate Social Marketing is where “a corporation supports the development and/or implementation of a behavior change campaign intended to improve public health, safety, the environment, or community well being.” (Kotler et al., p. 22.) It is this behavior change focus that differentiates it from cause promotions. In 1998, Starbucks introduced the Grounds for Your Garden initiative which offers customers complementary five-pound bags of used coffee grounds to enrich garden soils. An additional behavior-focused example includes offering customers a complimentary beverage of their choice when they brought in their own reusable mug to celebrate Earth Day. (Kotler et al. 2, pp. 27-28.)
Corporate-Driven Initiatives: These three are developed and managed primarily by other corporate functions including community relations, human resources, foundations and operations.
- Corporate Philanthropy is perhaps the most traditional of the six initiatives, one where “a corporation makes a direct contribution to a charity or cause, most often in the form of cash grants, donations, and/or in-kind services.” (Kotler et al., p. 23.) One of Starbucks grant recipients is the Children’s Environmental Heritage Foundation in Malaysia. This nonprofit organization in Kuala Lumpur was founded to “instill a love of and care for the environment in young people.”(Kotler et al., p. 29.)
- Workforce Volunteering is where “a corporation supports and encourages employees, retail partners, and/or franchise members to volunteer at local community organizations and causes·” (Kotler et al., p. 23.) In 2011 in Shanghai, China, Starbucks supported 750 employees (partners, as Starbucks calls them) to “roll up their sleeves” to help rejuvenate the environment, with projects including gardening, repainting walls, and setting up waste management systems. (Kotler et al., p. 29.)
- Socially Responsible Business Practices are where “a corporation adapts and conducts discretionary business practices and investments that support social causes to improve community well-being and protect the environment.” (Kotler et al., p.23.) Beginning in late 2010, Starbucks set a goal of achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification for all new company owned stores. Standards include ones related to building materials, water and energy efficiency, waste management infrastructures and more. (Kotler et al. 2012, pp. 29-31.)
A Dozen Examples of a “Perfect Match”
Below is a list of a dozen examples of what might be considered a “perfect match”, ones that will then be briefly described. It may be beneficial to just first glance at the list and note your reaction. Does a corporate focus on that issue make good sense? Can you quickly see a natural connection to their products, corporate values, brand personality, competitive positioning, and/ or target audiences? Does the commitment seem genuine?
- Johnson & Johnson: Nursing
- Pampers: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Target: Reading
- PetSmart: Pet Adoption
- Macy’s: Women’s Heart Disease
- SUBWAY: Healthy Fast Foods
- Allstate: Texting & Driving
- FedEx: Pedestrian Safety
- TOM’s Shoes: Shoes for the Poor
- Yoplait Yogurt: Breast Cancer
- BestBuy: Electronics Recycling
- McDonald’s: Childhood Immunizations
Johnson & Johnson: Nursing. In 2002, when the United States was facing a severe nursing shortage, Johnson & Johnson launched a multiyear, nationwide effort to enhance the image of the nursing profession, recruit new nurses, and retain nurses currently in the system. They knew they had the marketing skills to make a difference and made a commitment to invest at least $25 million towards the campaign. Campaign elements included: a national television, print, and interactive advertising campaign; a very visible public relations component; recruitment materials; fundraising for student scholarships; celebrations at regional nursing events; an interactive web site; and activities to create and fund retention programs. (Kotler & Lee 2005). In 2010, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Research and Data Center reported that campaign efforts had motivated 24 percent of 18-24 year olds to consider nursing as a career. (Kotler et al., 2012 p. 37.)
Pampers: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a leading cause of death among infants from birth to 12 months in North America, with one of the prevention measures promoted being to put infants on their backs to sleep. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the SIDS rate in the United States has declined by more than 50 percent since the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign began in 1994. Pampers is a major partner in this effort, joining the campaign in 1999 with a focus on newborns. Pampers printed the Back to Sleep logo (featuring a baby sleeping on its back) across the diaper-fastening strips of its diapers for newborns, in three languages. They included Back to Sleep information in childbirth education packets, booklets distributed through pediatricians’ offices, direct mail pieces to households with newborns, and an aggressive media outreach program. (Kotler & Lee, 2005 p.121.)
Target: Reading. For Target, education is a longtime, top-priority social issue, and certainly the fact that it is a priority for their primary customers (parents), as well, is no coincidence. A significant portion of their targeted $1 billion in education-related giving by the end of 2015 funds programs and partnerships dedicated to a focused goal – helping more U.S. children read proficiently by the end of third grade (Kotler & Lee, 2005. pp. 31-32.) Corporate initiatives include ones in each of the six initiatives, illustrated below:
PetSmart: Pet Adoption. PetSmart, offering pet products and accessories, donates space in their stores to local animal welfare organizations so they can make homeless pets more visible. Between 1994 and 2003, it is estimated this program has saved the lives of more than 1.7 million homeless pets through their in-store adoption areas alone. Consider, as well, the benefit to the company in terms of the thousands, if not millions, of customers exposed to the effort and, for those adopting a pet, their likelihood of returning to a PetSmart store for food, needed supplies and grooming services. (Kotler & Lee, 2005, pp. 56-57.)
Macy’s: Women’s Heart Disease. Macy’s, a major retailer with a priority focus on women shoppers, is a founding national sponsor of Go Red For Women (GRFW), a passionate and emotional social movement designed to influence women to take charge of their heart health. Examples of four initiatives mentioned on this website appear in the table below:
SUBWAY: Healthy Fast Foods. If you were the marketing director at SUBWAY with a responsibility for securing a competitive brand positioning as the healthy fast-food option, you would be grateful for the long-term partnership the company has had with the American Heart Association. Through this partnership, several initiatives have been made possible including: Start Walking at Work, Jump Rope for Heart, and the American Heart Walks. You would have also been pleased with the announcement in January 2014 from First Lady Michelle Obama that SUBWAY had committed to promoting healthier choices for kids through a new marketing campaign and additional restaurant offerings. The American Heart Association added to this applause by then sending a follow-up press release praising the effort: “For almost 15 years, we have worked with SUBWAY to develop and provide healthier meals to adults and children. Today is another example of SUBWAY’s leadership and its commitment to kids’ health.” (Lee & Kotler, 2015, pp. 448-449.)
Allstate: Texting & Driving. Given the statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that car crashes are the number-0ne killer of U.S. teenagers, it might not be surprising to find that Allstate Insurance is interested in influencing safer teen driving. And given the alarming increase in teens’ texting while driving and the grim statistic that an average of 11 teens are killed every day from crashes involving texting and driving, it also isn’t surprising that texting is a focus for their efforts, one with the potential to also reduce their claims. A cornerstone initiative was a social marketing effort to influence teens, along with other family members, to make pledges not to text and drive. The movement began in 2009 with efforts including a 30-city national tour of the live pledge events and a Facebook virtual pledge page. Upon pledging, participants receive thumb bands with the words TXTNG KLLS to wear as a daily reminder of their commitment. By November, 2011, Allstate had received more than 250,000 pledges. (Kotler et al., 2012, pp. 122-123.)
FedEx: Pedestrian Safety. Pedestrian safety is a strategic area of focus tor FedEx, with one initiative supporting employees to volunteer to participate in the International Walk to School Day. In the Philippines, FedEx volunteers that day shared with parents best practices for maneuvering crowds of children walking to and from school daily. And in New York City, nearly 120 third graders met with FedEx volunteers who walked with the classes to a place called Safety City, a place with a replica of a New York City streetscape created just for kids by the New York City Department of Transportation. To impress the kids regarding driver visibility, students were able to board a FedEx delivery truck and get behind the wheel so they could observe the limited visibility of their peers in front of a truck. Since the beginning of the program, more than 2.2 million students have joined with nearly 14,000 FedEx volunteers in 5,500 schools for this pedestrian safety event around the world to reach families. (Kotler et al., 2012, pp. 167-168.)
TOMS Shoes: Shoes for the Poor. In just four years, TOMS grew from a start-up shoe selling company based in the living room of the owner Blake Mycoskie’s shared Santa Monica, California, apartment to a company that had sold more than a million pairs of shoes. Key to its success was a cause-related marketing initiative where, for every pair of shoes sold, TOMS promised to give one pair away to a child in need. Unlike many cause-related efforts that are one-time only or for a limited lime, this one is “permanent”. Demonstrating this corporate commitment to do well and do good, a second product offering followed in June 2011, TOMS Eyewear, providing a pair of glasses to people in need for every pair of TOMS Eyewear glasses sold. (Kotler et al., 2012, pp. 86-87.)
Yoplait Yogurt: Breast Cancer. The story told on Yoplait’s “Friends in the Fight” web site, states that “It all started when some General Mills employees rallied and raised funds for a fellow employee and friend diagnosed with breast cancer. The story reached and resonated at headquarters because it was beyond something nice. It was an outpouring of love and support that embodied Yoplait’s brand persona and mirrored the real actions for our everyday consumers. From there, the Save Lids to Save Lives program and Yoplait’s commitment to the breast cancer cause grew.” It also reports on the site that in 16 years they have contributed $35 million to organizations such as Susan G. Komen which, in part, supports breast cancer research and provides services and education to those facing the disease.
BestBuy: Electronics Recycling. The headline on Best Buy’s e-cycle website touts “No matter where you bought it, we’ll recycle it” and information that follows provides information on recycling old, unused, or unwanted consumer electronics including computers, keyboards, monitors, cell phones, TVs, and more at all U.S. Best Buy stores. What they offer is an in-store solution including kiosks just inside the door for easier drop off. And the company does not charge a fee for recycling most consumer electronic products. Common consumer barriers are addressed with a “Frequently Asked Questions” section on the website. Customers with concerns about access to personal data have the option to remove their data themselves, or they can consult with the Geek Squad® Agent regarding services to remove the hard drive before handing a PC over to be recycled. Benefits to the environment are highlighted in Best Buy’s annual sustainability report, where it was reported in 2011 that they had collected 83 million pounds of consumer electronics. And we can imagine benefits to the company as well, with those bringing in used and unwanted items likely looking for a replacement. (Kotler et al., 2012, pp. 119-121.)
McDonald’s: Childhood Immunizations. Ronald McDonald House Charities teamed up with the American Academy of Pediatrics, health departments, and health care providers around the United States to “Immunize for Healthy Lives”, an immunization education program in existence since 1994. One of McDonald’s corporate social marketing efforts is to influence timely immunizations by providing tray liners for use in McDonald’s restaurants, ones displaying the recommended immunization schedule. They have also provided space in some locations for health department nurses and public health officials to review children’s immunization records, address parents· questions and concerns regarding the safety of immunizations, and provide information on community resources including financial support (Kotler & Lee, 2005, p 41.)
What Makes a “Perfect Match”?
Several attributes help create a strong partnership that will benefit the corporation, as well as the cause. The more of these that are true for the potential match, the more “perfect” it is likely to be:
- It must pass the “smell test’, where consumers don’t mistrust or question the company’s commitment and genuine concern for the social issue (e.g., Pampers’ concern for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and ability to play a prevention role).
- The core values of the company are aligned with the social cause (e.g., Starbucks having corporate goals and numerous initiatives related to protecting the environment).
- The social issue is one that your target audience cares about (e.g., Macy’s focusing on women and the number one cause of death for them, heart disease).
- It helps if it is an issue that the company’s employees care about (e.g., FedEx drivers who are concerned for pedestrian safety, perhaps having witnessed pedestrian collisions).
- The initiative provides opportunities for the company to contribute excess resources (e.g., PetSmart providing space in their stores for animal adoption).
- The effort is convenient for participants, and at the same time builds traffic in retail locations that then increase purchasing (e.g., Best Buy’s e-cycle kiosks in store fronts).
- The relationship helps secure a desired brand positioning (e.g., SUBWAY’s partnership with the American Heart Association and recognition by the First Lady for offering healthy fast food options).
As we often hear on “matchmaking” TV commercials, “Your perfect match is Just waiting for you. Go find them!”
- Kotler, P., Hessekiel, D., Lee, N. (2012). GOOD WORKS! Marketing and Corporate Initiatives That Build a Better World.. And The Bottom Line. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
- Kotler, P., Lee, N. (2005). Corporate Social Responsibility: Doing the Most Good for Your Company and Your Cause. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
- Lee, N., Kotler (2015). Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviors for Good. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.
Nancy Lee is an adjunct faculty at the University of Washington and is the founder of Social Marketing Services, a marketing campaign development and evaluation consultancy. She has co-authored 10 books with Philip Kotler.
CREDIT: The image at the top of the page is (CC) via Griffin Boyce.