RIP Paul Newman, the Preeminent Face of Cause-Related Marketing

After a private battle, Paul Newman passed away from lung cancer on Friday, September 26, 2008 surrounded by family and friends.

He will be remembered as a splendid actor, a competitive professional race car driver, a political activist, philanthropist and accidental leader. But I’ll remember him as the preeminent face of cause-related marketing in our day. (And certainly as the star of my favorite Western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. See left with Katharine Ross).

On a lark in 1982 along with his neighbor and friend writer A.E. Hotchner, Newman started selling salad dressing that they called Newman’s Own. Later they added pasta sauce, popcorn, salsa, wine, cookies, among many other items, to the line.

The labels featured jokey caricatures of Newman and the pledge that 100 percent of the proceeds from the venture, after taxes, would be donated to charity. From its founding through 2007, Newman’s Own had donated more than $220 million to charity. Last year’s charitable donation was $28 million.

“The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films," Newman once drolly remarked.

When I worked for the Operation Kids Foundation, we were a beneficiary of a Newman’s Own donation, but not because we’d asked for money. Instead, we’d sent an inquiry asking if he’d be willing to be feted as a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree at our annual gala. He wrote back and said that such awards made him uncomfortable. Inside the envelope was a check for $10,000.

Until about two years ago Newman was still personally distributing the company’s profits. About the same time he stepped back from that responsibility, Newman set up a private independent foundation called Newman’s Own Foundation to receive and distribute the profits from the Newman’s Own company.

The Foundation benefits the Hole in the Wall Camps which serves children with terminal diseases and other serious medical conditions free of charge, and numerous other charitable endeavors. Newman founded the first Hole in the Wall Camp in 1988. There are now 11 camps in the United States, Europe, and Israel affiliated with the Hole in the Wall.

Newman worked very hard at keeping the marketing for Newman’s Own… and even its operations… light-hearted and open to input from almost anyone. It was a legacy of Newman’s lifetime of film-making that he believed good ideas could bubble up from almost anywhere.

You can read about Newman and Hotchner’s merry pranks in two books: In Pursuit of the Common Good, published in August 2008; and Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good from 2003.

I’ve written before about how the success of Newman’s Own has inspired many imitators. If Helen of Troy was the face that launched 1,000 ships, Paul Newman looking back at you from a bottle of Newman’s Own was the face that launched 10,000 social enterprises.

So in memory of what he did and who he’s inspired, join me now and raise a toast of Newman’s Own wine (or lemonade) to Paul Newman, the accidental cause marketer sans pareil.

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