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When Sponsors Don't Renew Cool Cause Marketing Campaigns

Although I surely come off as a homme du monde and maybe even a bon vivant, I confess that I spent the first nine years of my life at the edge of a tiny desert hamlet in the American Southwest where I lived across a dirt road from a large cotton field. I lived so close to the field and far enough from town that many’s the morning I was awoken by crop duster airplanes.

My family had been city-folk for three generations before me. Still, as a boy I envied the handsome blue corduroy jackets worn by the members of the Future Farmer’s of America (FFA).

I missed this campaign from Campbell’s in 2009 and 2010 benefiting the FFA. But I came across it while working on the Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database. And though Campbell’s hasn’t renewed the campaign, it’s one of my favorite cause marketing efforts of all time.

Called Help Grow Your Soup, in 2010 the campaign restored five barns… chosen by popular vote by people inputting Campbell's Soup UPC codes… in Michigan, Indiana, Maryland and North Carolina. Five barns were also restored in 2009. Campbell’s underwrote the restoration of the barns and part of the labor was provide by local FFA chapters, alumni, and community groups.

In addition, Campbell donated a $1 per vote cast up to a maximum of $250,000. The maximum was met both years and Campbell's donated a grand total of $500,000 to the national FFA.

Of course there’s something wonderfully romantic about old barns, which is one reason to like this campaign. But more than that, Help Grow Your Soup shows a little love to the FFA, which along with 4-H is the last torch bearer for farming and the rural life to America’s young people.

And that’s important if, like me, you like to eat food and/or wear clothing made from natural fibers.

One of the great miracles of the last 100 years is the astonishing growth in productivity of farmland and farmers. The decade of the 1920s, when our great-grandparents and their parents were alive, was the first time in history when more Americans lived in urban areas than rural areas, a transition the world as a whole made in 2008.

As recently as the 1940 farmers represented 18 percent of the American labor force. Now that figure is less than 2 percent. In some States farmers are aging faster than the labor force as a whole. In other words, we need to raise a generation of young farmers to keep the miracle going, something the FFA (and, again, 4-H) is good at.

In terms of the ad itself, I like showing the genealogy of the young farmer. Genealogy is hot again and has always been one of the most common uses of the Internet.

But the overall creative for the ad seemed much more at home in Grit magazine, rather than Reader’s Digest.

As to the question of why Campbell's didn't renew, the website is vague. Certainly the FFA is an interesting partner; well-known within its silo of influence, but less so by average soup-eating Americans. Given that, I wonder if Campbell's activated the campaign as effectively as they needed to.

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