There was a four-sided laminated table tent outlining the campaign on the table. When the waitress brought the drinks she slapped down Chili’s trademark square paper beverage coasters and on them was a call to action for an element of the campaign called ‘Create-A-Pepper,’ a kind of paper icon campaign. The wait staff was all attired in black shirts co-branded with Chili’s and St. Jude.
The Create-A-Pepper paper icon could be found in a stack behind the hostess area. The Peppers are outlines of Chili’s iconic logo meant to be colored. I paid $1 for mine, but they would have taken $5, $10, or more. The crayons, too, were co-branded with the ‘Create-A-Pepper’ and St. Jude’s logos.
- You can browse a list of celebrity-created peppers from the likes of Cindy Crawford, Reese Witherspoon, Jay Leno, Steve Carrell, Kurt Russell, and others.
- There’s a cool online version of Create-A-Pepper where I made an awful mess.
- There's a sweepstakes element for the best Create-A-Pepper coloring sheet.
- A merchandise section sells dog tags and the T-shirt the Chili’s staff was wearing.
- And, of course, a donate now button.
Like Steve Martin said, “all I can say is wow.”
Even though I was wowed I came away with a few questions.
- I’m not a fan of paper icons shaped like an element from the sponsor’s product line or their logo. It brands the sponsor, sure. But isn’t it better for the sponsor to wrap itself in the charity rather than the other way around?
- In the Chili’s where I ate, I had to ask the hostess for the icons on my way out. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for her to mention ‘Create-A-Pepper’ as I came in, thereby giving me time to color it while I waited for my meal? If she doesn’t know how to do that she needs a script that tells her how.
- I wondered about the cost. A note on the Create-A-Pepper says that “100% of the purchase price of this coloring sheet will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.” That’s reassuring. But who paid for the paper coasters, the staff’s T-shirts, the table tent, the crayons?
Don’t misunderstand. I like these well-coordinated, completely integrated campaigns. But every charity fights the perception problem that goes something like this; “that’s some awful nice paper that they printed this annual report on. And look at all these colored pictures. They must not need my money very much!”
Worse, there’s a kind of Catch-22 in effect. Even if Chili’s covered all those costs, there are still a substantial (if minority) audience of critics who would say, “why didn’t Chili’s just give St. Jude all the money rather than buy a bunch of fancy T-shirts and crayons?”
Is that fair? Probably not. But that’s the way people think.
I left Chili’s quite full. The Triple-Dipper is a lot of food. Likewise, the Create-A-Pepper is a lot of campaign. A few tweaks and it could be a great campaign.