'Top Eight' 'Bottom Nine' What Do I Have Against the Number 10?
I was contemptuous of a pretty good number of cause-related marketing campaigns and cause marketing ads in 2007. Nine of them make my list for the worst campaigns of 2007. [Read my list of the best eight cause-related marketing campaigns here.]
But only one gave me a visceral reaction. That was an ad in BabyTalk Magazine by American Greetings and featuring the Sesame Street character Elmo. The ad had the look and feel of a cause-related marketing campaign meant to benefit kids in Third World countries
“Instead… as you read the fine print… you learn that Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit which produces Sesame Street and other children’s shows, applies the money it earns from its licensees to underwrite the production of versions of Sesame Street in other countries. Sure, and when I fill up on gas at CITGO stations kids in Venezuela are able to go to college.”
The only reason this ad didn’t lead the list is because it dropped in May 2006, even though I reviewed it last March. I’ll say it again, shame on American Greetings for an ad like that and shame on Sesame Workshop for approving it. I did not expect Sesame Workshop to be this slick.
Here then are the rest of worst.
Worst Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns of 2007
Firedog Across America
American Heart Association ad for their Start Movement
- In January I found a lot to like in Circuit City’s interesting and well-designed campaign meant to promote its technology services division called Firedog by raising money for two charities and 10 firehouses in the United States. But I found the total payout potential of $650,000 to be too penny-pinching. When it comes to the donation made by the campaign sponsor, experience and academic research clearly demonstrate that more really is more.
March of Dimes WalkAmerica ad and colored ribbons
- The largest charities in the United States have enormous resources to draw on. So when they advertise in support of their sponsors it’s worth paying attention to, even if it’s not cause-related marketing per se. In a small ad featured in Parade Magazine in January, it seemed like the American Heart Association couldn’t trouble itself to be even perfunctory in its recognition of its sponsors: Subway, Healthy Choice and Astro-Zeneca.
Target and National Teacher Appreciation Week
- Every charity worth its stripes these days has a colored ribbon. The March of Dimes’ ribbon is Pink and blue (get it?). Problem is, every color of ribbon these days has more than one charity or cause. Although I wasn’t critical of the March of Dimes, I did wonder out loud about the use of colored ribbons. “Is it really possible for a purple ribbon to be truly meaningful for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation when it already stands for awareness of pancreatic cancer, as a protest against horse slaughter, as a sign of Pagan solidarity, and in memory of slain Beatle John Lennon?”
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and various charities
- In May I heaped both praise and scorn on Target, which figured out a way to do cause-related marketing without the hassle of dealing with an actual cause. Their flyer suggested families buy World’s Best Teacher gift cards as teacher’s gifts in recognition of National Teacher Appreciation Week, an observance founded by the National PTA. Yet no money went to the National PTA. Probably because the National PTA never (apparently) bothered to trademark the name.
Sports Authority and an unnamed breast cancer charity
- I tried to make sense of the campaign featuring certain highbrow celebrities and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The donation amount… just $10,000… is a prime example of what most critics dislike about cause-related marketing; gifts that are dwarfed by the money spent promoting it. A complaint I share in this case. Worse, the featured charities got virtually no promotional value from the ads or the ancillary website.
Walgreens flyer heralding the American Diabetes Association
- I cringed when I saw the familiar breast cancer ribbon used as a graphical “bug” in a flyer for the Sports Authority chain. Nowhere else in the flyer was there an explanation of why the ribbon was there. It prompted me to rework Kris Kristofferson’s song “Help Me Make it Through the Night.” No doubt I inspired a lot of cringing myself with just the opening line: “Take the ribbon from this ad,” I wrote. “Shake it loose and let it go. Rubbin’ wrong against my skin. Use it right or just say no.”
Outside Magazine Green Issue
- I was at a loss trying to explain the absurdity of the American Diabetes Association’s presence in a flyer from Walgreens. Walgreens had gathered a list of vendors, all of which were existing sponsors of the American Diabetes Association. The headline read: “Walgreens and the makers of the items on this page salute the American Diabetes Association. We’re proud to make a contribution of $287,500*.” The asterisk referred to a sentence in mice-type which read, “The American Diabetes Association does not endorse any of the products featured.” To me it smelled like the lawyers got involved and rendered the ad quite pointless.
Fashion Targets Breast Cancer
- I was almost nonplussed by a cause campaign from Outside Magazine. When you bought the April ‘Green Issue,’ Outside promised to give $1 to the Conservation Alliance up to $50,000. “Cause-related marketing is typically a promotion.” I wrote. “And like any promotion it’s meant to give your customer base incentive to do something you want it to do. Given Outside’s green branding it seems odd to me that they want to incentivize people to buy more issues on the newsstands. Think of the paper, the trucks that deliver issues, the issues that don’t sell and are shipped back or just trashed.” I could only conclude that Outside isn’t as ‘green’ as I thought it was.
- In the American idiom we say ‘you can’t argue with success.’ But I did just that when I examined this campaign, which has generated more than $40 million for breast cancer charities in 13 countries. Their approach is to invite a prominent designer to design a piece of clothing featuring the campaign logo, put it on willowy super models, advertise in chi-chi magazines, and sell it at a premium price. I called it “cause-related marketing for the beautiful people” and wondered out loud, where’s the chic products for us fashion outsiders?
Labels: American Greetings, American Heart Association, Colored Charity Ribbons, Firedog Across America, Mandarin Oriental, Sesame Workshop