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More Companies Match Marketing, Good Cause

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 13, 2011

By Laura Raines

Here’s one I’ll bet you haven’t heard. Which came first, the chicken or a new idea for an advertising agency?

For Loren Solomon, president and chief creative officer for marketing communications company Solomon Says Inc., it was definitely the chicken.

“My creative team was asked to work on a new marketing campaign for a fairly large chicken franchise,” said Solomon. “The company had beaten out a competitor in a taste test, and they were going to spend $20 million on a campaign to tout that their wing or leg was crunchier.”

Solomon didn’t feel like the news warranted a $20 million campaign, and she didn’t believe consumers would care. She thought there must be more meaningful ways for a company to market itself and increase sales.

She asked Michael Nyenhuis, president and CEO of MAP International, a Georgia-based global health and development organization, about the possibility of the company delivering chicken to impoverished villages.

“People, like Nyenhuis, who have really worked on the ground in developing countries have so much intellectual capital to share about how to solve the problems they face,” said Solomon. “He said that delivering chicken would just put local chicken farmers out of business, but that company support of a sustainable poultry project could make a lasting impact.

“I could see doing a campaign for that,” said Solomon. She began researching cause marketing and within three weeks had launched a second company, Advertising for Good.

Cause marketing, or the idea of a for-profit company joining marketing forces with a nonprofit organization for their mutual benefit, is not new.

Marriott Corp. did it successfully with the March of Dimes to launch its family entertainment center, Marriott’s Great America, in 1976. More recently, Yoplait’s Save Lids to Save Lives campaign has donated more than $30 million to the Susan G. Komen Foundation in 13 years. It raised a lot of money to fight breast cancer and generated sales and good will for Yoplait.

IEG Inc. studies have logged the growing trend. It reports that U.S. companies spent $1.11 billion in 2005, $1.52 billion in 2008, and a projected $1.57 billion in 2009. Post-recession, it’s still a hot trend.

“Research shows that 91 percent of people feel that it’s important for companies to support a cause and 85 percent of consumers have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports something they care about,” said Solomon. “The world seems to be moving economically and socially towards supporting brands that support local communities and the world.”

Advertising for Good helps nonprofit organizations with their strategy.

Rather than asking for charitable donations, nonprofits need to learn how to talk return on investment. “They need to show potential partners how linking with their nonprofit cause can improve the company’s reputation, enhance its brand, raise consumer awareness and improve its bottom line,” said Solomon.

It also helps corporate clients find and design campaigns around causes that fit their core products and mission. “Cause marketing takes marketing to a whole different sphere. It’s a good thing all around, and the country needs more of that right now,” she said. A successful campaign can help a charity meet its goals, while opening a company to a different, more purpose-driven audience.

TOMS Shoes is a case in point. For every pair sold, the company donates a pair to a needy child. “The company has quadrupled sales since it started the practice,” said Solomon.

Cause marketing is a good concept for today’s economy, said Mark Goldman, chief marketing officer for Viking Range Corp., a manufacturer of commercial-grade appliances for home use.

“Nonprofits have suffered mightily, because charitable giving is down,” said Goldman. “This is a good time for companies to be even more generous, but it’s difficult because many corporations have cut back to be more efficient.” Viking inventor Fred Carl has stayed loyal to his Greenwood, Miss., community and manufactures in the U.S. “Viking is very generous and does a lot of giving in its community and beyond,” he said.

The company is a sponsor for the T.J. Martell Foundation’s Best Cellars Dinners, which raises money for Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta. “It’s a great cause and we’re glad to be supporting innovative cancer research,” said Goldman.

Viking, he said, is developing a conscious marketing strategy based around what is meaningful to the company, and he’s seeing more companies doing the same. As part of the Ogilvy & Mather American Express/Statue of Liberty Restoration campaign, Goldman knows how effective cause marketing can be.

In 1983, American Express donated $1 toward restoration of Lady Liberty for each new card application, and a penny for every transaction. American Express donated $1.75 million for restoration and much more through public awareness, but it also increased new card applications by 45 percent and purchases by 28 percent in the first month.

"Cause marketing is a softer form of marketing, but it is still a business construct. You’re encouraging sales, while giving a portion to charity,” he said. “Sometimes there shouldn’t be any commerce involved. Companies should just do the right thing and give. Both have a place.”

But nonprofits know they need to make an effort to get businesses' attention.

“Corporate giving has decreased, and companies are giving less for the sake of giving these days,” said Tricia Ekholm, director of marketing at the Atlanta Ballet. “We’ve been a client of Solomon Says for years, but we’ve begun working with Advertising for Good to learn how to work with corporations in their marketing efforts.” The dance company has benefited for the past several years by having Belk Inc. sponsor "The Nutcracker."

With limited staff and resources, the Atlanta Ballet is using Solomon’s agency expertise to find more ways to approach the business community. “We’re looking at all the different pieces we have to offer, our performance, dance education and outreach programs to find new ways to connect and cross paths with [for-profit] community partners,” said Ekholm.