American Heart Association ‘Start’ Campaign

When Causes Market

The very largest charities in the States have enormous resources. The American Heart Association, for instance, has more than 200 chapters and affiliates, generates more than $900 million a year and had $647 million in its fund balance (read ‘profits’) as of 2004.

So it’s no surprise that they sometimes advertise, here for their Start 'movement' which is meant to motivate Americans to be more physically active. Nor is it surprising that the campaign has sponsors. Squint your eyes and look at the bottom of this ad and maybe you can see them. Or, you can just take my word for it that they are fast food sandwich chain Subway, food processor Healthy Choice, and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

The ad appears in Sunday’s Parade Magazine, which appears as a supplement in the Sunday editions of 370 newspapers in the United States and claims circulation of nearly 33 million and a readership of 77 million.

Here’s a case where the cause-related marketing is being handled by the cause. It would be interesting to know what their goals for this ad are. I suspect this is ad is meant for branding the Start campaign and perhaps, secondarily, to recognize their sponsors.

For kicks I measured the logos of the sponsors. As printed they are approximately1/2 inch wide. Because of its horizontal format, the AstroZeneca logo is slightly larger. The ad itself is 5.5 x 71/8. Worse, the logos are reversed out onto the green of the grass. For all you can tell they’re small rocks that the happy couple pictured could stumble over.

Now Parade isn’t cheap. Assuming this ad appeared in the national edition, rather than one of the regional or zone editions the full rate card would be $408,400. To be fair, the American Heart Association probably didn’t pay the full rate card. They may have gotten the placement, which was surrounded by a two-column feature called, “You Can Lose Weight,” for free. Even if the Heart Association paid for some part of it, the ad was probably underwritten by sponsor money.

Free, discounted or paid in full, why are the logos of the campaign’s sponsors so darn small? What is the value of making your sponsors’ presence so discrete they can barely be discerned?

A few years back the big single-disease charities went through some breast-beating over cause-related marketing. After some notable scandals, the Attorneys General… the law enforcement authorities in each of the 50 states… gave them a little slap on the wrist and the charities responded by developing new policies to govern the kinds of cause-related marketing and corporate collaborations they would undertake, as well as what kind of language they could use in ads and promotions.

Some of the charities made penance and are back, the Arthritis Foundation comes to mind. Others, like the American Medical Association, were so chastened by their experience they no longer employ cause-related marketing. Some, like the American Heart Association, apparently try to split the difference.

The result is an ad that does next to nothing for their sponsors.

I hope the American Heart Association has strong relationships with its sponsors, because if I were one of them, I’d be a little steamed at this token effort.

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