Cause Marketing Sampler: March 2008

Kudos to Paul Jones over at Cause-Related Marketing who wrote a great post on a pact between Chili's and St. Jude that's raised an astounding $8.2 million.  Some of the takeaways for me included: Revisit the easy dining category.  Paul's right: it's been traditionally a tough category for all the reasons that he's identified.  But it's worth another look because these restaurants have what every successful point-of-sale program needs: traffic.  I was reminded of this two weeks ago when I waited over an hour on a Friday to get a table at Chili's.

Targeting easy dining eateries just isn't for the big charities.  Over the years, northeast-based Papa Gino's has raised over three million dollars for two charities by selling a coupon book for a buck.

Personalize the cause.  So often you think of Chili's as this big, national company and St. Jude as this stand alone hospital god knows where.  Well, the two partners worked together to find the human story and how two Chili's employees benefited from the outstanding medical services at St. Jude Children's Hospital.  Always look for the local connection, the human story with which employees and customers can identify.

Incentives work. Especially with employees that are highly motivated like Chili's are.  Their success with incentives confirmed for me that I'm on the right track!

Speaking of point-of-sale programs, Sue Hyatt, The Business Philanthropy Coach, has a good post on being asked at Safeway to "round-up" her purchase total with the balance going to Easter Seals.  I've never done a round-up program, but I think it's a great idea--and could be cheaper to run than a traditional mobile program.  Sue also makes the point that I've often made that point-of-sale programs are a great way to side-step the traditional company shrug that the "charity" budget for the year is blown.

And what blog post would be complete without some mention of Liberace.  I read a fascinating article in the Boston Globe on how the Liberace Foundation is trying to stay relevant and drive traffic to his museum by promoting Liberace as the king (and queen) of glitz and bling.  A pop culture icon for 50-cent and Dr. Dre, the Liberace Foundation has unveiled its own sparkly, piano key sneaker that sell for a c-note!  Indeed, Liberace could be on his way to being the next big dead, pop icon.

"Great, Joe," you say.  "Liberace's been dead for 20 years and now he's cool.  What's that have to do with cause marketing?"  Well, like the marketing team at the Liberace Foundation, cause marketers are the stewards of their causes, and like LF may not be selling the hippest thing in town.  So like the marketers at LF we can't forget that at our core we are (and must be) forever "merchants of cool" and can learn from the lessons of LF to try to find our own place in the fickle, unpredictable but wildly tantalizing and profitable world of popular culture.

Building on the example provided by the Liberace Foundation, perhaps MDA after Jerry Lewis dies will take a retrospective look at one of the great comedians of our time to revitalize a brand that took root when television was king and its coolest courtiers were the Rat Pack and the court jester was Lewis.

I struggle with relevancy all the time with my own cause.  As many of you know, I work for a safety-net hospital that serves the poorest of the poor.  What's cool or hip about that?  Well, maybe it can be cool if we start connecting the Horatio Alger stories of some of the most successful men and women of Boston with the modest beginnings and challenges of our patients.  Rags to riches stories never go out of style and will give the elite of Boston a touchstone to connect with a population that they usually only see through the windows of their luxury cars and downtown condos and, not surprisingly, don't really know.

So, I guess if the Liberace Foundation has glitz I have Schlitz.  Rich people don't drink it and many poor people today have probably never heard of it.  But that's not important.  They both know what it's like to drink cheap booze but to thirst for something better.