Cause Marketing to Raise Awareness

Up there in the masthead of the blog is Alden Keene’s definition of cause marketing: “Cause marketing is a relationship that bridges commerce and cause in ways that benefit both parties.”

There’s nothing in the definition about money changing hands, even if that’s how we typically think of cause marketing. Indeed, cause marketing is often configured so as to raise awareness. That’s the case in the campaign recently profiled in this space from Feeding America and featuring Laila Ali and Curtis Conway and that’s the case in this multi-faceted campaign from Becton, Dickenson and Company (BD), a $7.3 billion (sales) provider of medical instruments and supplies.

BD’s website says it basically has two philanthropic approaches; donations of cash and product, and “raising awareness for a healthier world.”

In 2009, BD gave $11 million, split evenly between in-kind product donations and cash donations. If I read the graphic correctly all the in-kind donations went to global humanitarian groups, which makes sense since they probably don’t want donated medical supplies competing with anything they sell in developed markets.

To raise awareness “BD has created vehicles such as the Trusted Partners communications campaign and Horizons traveling photo exhibition to draw attention to urgent global healthcare needs and to highlight the activities of our dedicated partners.” Some ads for BD’s Trusted Partners are at the left.

In fact, BD is looking for professional and amateur photographers for its awareness programs.

There’s a slideshow from photojournalist James Nachtwey about the ravages in Africa of extreme drug resistant TB and for which he won the TED Prize.

I applaud BD for their awareness raising efforts. But there’s something conspicuous by its absence and that is video. I like photographic stills as much as anyone. I’ve been known to step into traveling photo exhibitions. But often as not it’s me and six other people at those traveling exhibits. Ever since the les frères Lumiere starting making the pictures move, stills have been losing ground to them.

But, you say, film and video have to be edited. They require a crew and a script and narration and a score. Just lighting a shot for a movie can take hours. Never mind that under the hand of an artistic photographer, still images can be wondrously affecting.

Moreover, while photojournalist James Nachtwey might wait for the light to turn just right or a subject to cock their head just so, his job is much less involved than a full motion video camera crew.

However, this is a matter of reframing BD’s purpose. Raising awareness of extreme drug resistant TB… a point of emphasis for BD… doesn’t necessarily require exquisitely artistic still images of TB sufferers in Africa. If the point is to raise awareness so that things will be changed for the better, that requires bigger audiences than even an appearance on TED can bring. To really move the needle on extreme drug resistant TB requires moving images.

Think about it this way. Al Gore presented An Inconvenient Truth countless times as a slide show to live audiences large and small. His nonprofit The Climate Project encouraged volunteers to take basically the same presentation to local schools, senior centers, Rotary meetings, and the like. But it took until the time when the eponymous movie was released before the movement reached its tipping point. A good argument can be made that the movie also cemented Gore's Nobel Prize.

So imagine instead that BD sends a dozen young documentary film makers out with one of those new Canon or Nikon SLRs that use natural light and capture pretty decent video with sound. They’re pretty fancy looking for still cameras, but as video cameras go, they’re rather low key.

The job of these young documentarians would be to go to the places in Africa where extreme drug resistant TB is rampant and capture the life of just one individual with drug resistant TB, then craft a compelling 10-minute story.

Why just one story each? Like Joseph Stalin reputedly said, the death of millions is a statistic. But the dying of just one person is a tragedy.

The five best stories would be linked with a single narration voiced by someone like Liam Neeson.

Where would the resulting show air? Maybe Frontline on PBS. Or one of the gajillions of cable news outlets. Or, you could wrap a larger promotion around it and do something in movie theaters with Fathom Events.

I suspect BD could do it for the price of a year's worth of these magazine ads.

Finally, it may well be that photojournalist James Nachtwey approached BD rather than the other way around. The chain of events doesn't much matter. What does matter to those with extreme drug resistant TB is that awareness be raised as broadly as possible.

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