Chili’s and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

I was in Chili’s today and I ordered their “Triple-Dipper,” a three appetizer combo. While I waited for the food, I noticed another kind of combo. Chili’s is doing a full-featured cause-related marketing campaign for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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.

There’s also creatapepper.com, a microsite, but again with a lot of features.

Like Steve Martin said, “all I can say is wow.”

Even though I was wowed I came away with a few questions.

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.

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