Friday, February 27, 2009

Smile Pinki

As I've written before in Slumdog The Latest in $100 Million Cause Campaigns Called Movies, the movie industry has a rich history of telling stories that inspire and incite change. Well there was a lesser-known film based on real-world events from India that won an Oscar besides Slumdog Millionaire. Taking home Best Documentary Short was Smile Pinki which tells the story of "Pinki, a girl in rural India whose cleft lip has made her a social outcast...but has a chance for a new life when she meets a dedicated social worker."

The non-profit organization behind this social work is SmileTrain, a charity solely focused on cleft lip and palette in developing countries. You've probably seen their ads in newspapers including The New York Times for which the paper calls " of the most productive charities -dollar for deed- in the world." For 10 years now they've provided simple 45-minute surgery that provides "a desperate child not just a new smile, but a second chance at life" – and a $250 donation covers all costs.

The org does a masterful job at marketing the cause. While there are certainly celebrity endorsers like most NPOs these days, the ads focus on the heart-wrenching "before" pictures of these precious children. It's one of the simplest and most effective ways to promote the need for change.

As a documentary, the filmmakers were certainly more able to address the related social issue head-on than say Slumdog. SmileTrain was even mentioned by name in the acceptance speech. And in return, the cause has smartly leveraged the Oscar win in it's newest ads. It remains a collaborative effort to use storytelling in all its forms, film and advertising, to advocate for change.

By the way you can donate to SmileTrain online.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Slumdog the latest in $100 Million Cause Marketing Campaigns Called “Movies”

What responsibility is there to give back to the cause associated with the content?

It was the final victory party most expected Sunday night at The Oscars as Slumdog Millionaire walked away with wins for Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.

There’s been much talk about the little movie that could, and what makes it click on so many levels to both the public and the press alike. It’s basic structure is the familiar rags to riches story arc of a young boy and his quest for a better life to get the girl. Yet it’s the setting of Mumbai India and the depiction of the determined 25% who live in slums many of us knew nothing about that makes the film different. And finally it’s the visionary director’s execution that makes it memorable.

There’s also been much talk on whether the two children plucked out of the slums, Azhar and Rubina, were adequately compensated to be in the movie and whether the all-to-real story of human suffering in Mumbai is being exploited for commercial reasons. To be clear, by most updated accounts the children’s education has been paid for and a trust fund established to cover basic living costs. As many watched Sunday the two were even flown into Hollywood to attend the Oscar ceremony. But after the red carpet was rolled up, they returned to their lives in the slums as they’ve always known. To that, some say more should be done by those involved with a project that’s made over $130 million with just a very relatively modest $15 million production budget.

Which raises the moral question of what responsibility do the filmmakers owe both to the specific actors and all the people in the slums profiled in the movie? According to CNN:

“Boyle said the film's financial backers have agreed that charitable groups that help children of the slums will also see "a slice of the profits."

‘We've all agreed that we will sit down and dedicate a slice of the profits of the film to be distributed amongst people like those who run the school and other organizations who make a big difference to children's lives there,’ he said.

‘We gained from the city, both from these two children and from the city, in general, and we'll make sure the film gives back some of the enormous success it's had,’ he said.”

Some argue that’s still not enough. But Slumdog is not a documentary, it’s mean to be entertainment first and foremost. In fact it’s the latest in a long line of multi-million dollar “cause entertainment” vehicles called movies that bring needed awareness to an important social issue by sharing people and their stories rather than issues and their statistics. This year alone saw fellow Academy Award nominees Milk bring attention to the Gay Rights issue and Wall*E give both a humorous and sobering take on conspicuous consumption, health/wellness and environment. Other recent Oscar nominated movies that speak to topics of the time include Hotel Rwanda, Brokeback Mountain, American History X, Cider House Rules, Schindler's List, and Philadelphia. All provided a glimpse into a struggle in a raw way never done before. In fact Hollywood has a rich history of using it’s talents to frame significant topics. Think Mississippi Burning, Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, Norma Rae, A Clockwork Orange, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and The Wild One.

Bottom line: if there’s no one watching the movie then there’s no one talking about the issue. And if no one sees nor talks about it then there’s no money to share with those in need in the first place.

Which brings us back to Slumdog. I agree “slice of the profits” isn't exactly specific nor transparent. And sure a peak at the official film’s website reveals the soundtrack for sale on itunes, and a text-delivery of ringtones and widgets. There could easily have been a “click here to learn how you can help” banner with a brief video showing where the two actors return to and offering a way for consumers to donate directly to those charities referenced by Boyle. And in his own grassroots publicity campaign, especially once Oscar buzz started to build and the film became a media darling, the director could have plugged a “” type site. But it's a fine line. People watch movies to escape from their everyday world. Sometimes that escape is lighthearted sometimes frightening and sometimes jarring and thought provoking – and when done really well like Slumdog all the above. But people don’t want to be berated or lectured to. Especially as they are deciding where to spend their money. Entertain first. Inform second. Advocate third. That’s following the script for success in cause entertainment.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Authority On Cause Marketing: People Magazine

My look into the Zeitgeist or "spirit of the times" comes every Friday in the mail. Oh there's no shortage of ways to check what's in our collective head and heart. Music, book and film charts. TV ratings complete with analysis that would make Dr. Phil proud. Countless news surveys ("no wait ours IS different...) that promise a glimpse into people's minds. Even Google offers a set of tools updated in real-time called appropriately Zeitgeist that reveals this spirit by grouping and displaying what people search for – perhaps literally and figuratively.

But my wife's weekly edition of People magazine is a great and far more fun way for me to get a grasp on the cultural context. (Yes I read it cover to cover but you see for marketing research purposes only.) With stories that ranges from inspirational stories of courage to [insert celeb A here] breaks up with [insert celeb B here]. And from ubiquitous diet tips to last year's Heroes Among Us profile article series. And finally the ads. Yes the ads to me provide a most intriguing and telling view on our world and what approaches and messages resonate. As the longtime most read magazine you can be sure that if a brand has paid the top price to run in this magazine they've done their homework.

Since my passion for cause marketing began a couple of years ago I've been flipping the pages with great interest to see how many and what cause marketing ads or stories will appear. Many times there's a non-profit org's PSA ad. And at least several for-profit brands run cause marketing campaign ads. This past week's issue featured a cover story of Pilot Sully Sullenberger's account of safely landing 1549 and several notable cause related ads:

Subway Fresh Fit For Kids 

Subway is a savvy veteran with it's "better for you" heads-on competitive positioning vs. greasy and fatty fast-food. It's latest installment goes right where many of us feel it most: our kids. An alignment with great halo effect from American Heart Association for their Fresh Fit for Kids combo meal.

Diet Coke With The Heart Truth

Next up is a multi-page ad from Diet Coke featuring Heidi Klum and others in little red dresses. Oh yeah and it's in partnership with The Heart Truth. Feels borderline cause-washing to me given the stretch of carbonated soft drinks and health but hey if cause marketing was only employed by perfect brands with perfect products there wouldn't be any, to the detriment of important social issues. It definitely got my attention though clearly I'm not the target. But I also left wondering who is Heart Truth and doesn't the little red dress icon belong to American Heart Association's Go Red for Women cause campaign that I've seen the last few years?

Burt's Bees All Natural Lip Balm

Then it's cult phenom Burt's Bees lip balm. A great garage start-up brand story that has achieved wild success with naturally made ingredients. Complete with certification/endorsement from Natural Products Association (never heard of it but sure sounds good) it highlights what's in their product vs. the leading competition. Given the brand's positioning around "well being" this fits my broader definition of cause marketing: any idea that makes a business and social impact. Of course as some know, the brand was sold to The Clorox Company and now does a careful dance as a "boutique brand" along with negative perceptions around sister company's Clorox's chemical-based home cleaning products (more on that later).

Capri Sun Terracycle Program

In my opinion the best cause marketing ad in the issue comes from Capri Sun who leverages the "guilty mom" mindset and tells her how she can really do it all - take care of her kid's basic needs plus raise money for their school and help environment by recycling the pouches into school gear. And all without a huge cost or time investment.

Greenworks New Biodegradable Wipes

The final ad is for a new product in the mega-hit Green Works line: biodegradable wipes. The parent company, just like Bert's Bees discussed above, is The Clorox Company who wisely and by most accounts credibly has created the Green Works brand extension and validated the all-natural cleaning products category pioneered by Seventh Generation and others. The most controversy coming from it's alignment with the Sierra Club - the first such endorsement ever given by the preeminent environmental non-profit. But it wasn't from the critics or even the public but from a vocal minority within The Sierra Club itself. (In full disclosure Green Works/Clorox is a client of the agency I work for and the agency was involved with this program. However they did not create this ad. And I personally have no involvement with this client nor their marketing).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Definition of Success

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I first saw this Emerson quote taped to a door when visiting my brother at college many years ago. Since I started my career I've always kept it on or near my desk where I can see it often. I think it speaks volumes about the meaning of life, perspective, honor, responsibility. And it's an aspirational destination that can help keep us on the proper path during these troubling times.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Should pro athletes be required to give back?

A-Rod has blamed taking performance enhancing drugs on the "enormous pressure" of living up to the biggest baseball contract in history by the Texas Rangers. Yet while he played for the Rangers he never felt the “pressure” of that contract to give back to the Dallas/Ft. Worth community in any way whether through outreach, charitable foundational work, as a spokesperson, etc.

Since many of today’s pro athletes lack the inner motivation to get involved should that be contractually mandated in some way?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Super Bowl's Cause-Related Commercials Revisited

The biggest audience of the year. The biggest game of the year. The biggest barometer of the nation’s consciousness of the year. And as posted last week, several brands took advantage of it to message their various cause related programs. In case you missed any of the Super Bowl cause-related commercials here they are along with a quick synopsis of the good and the not so good of each.


Breakthrough creative concept that was liked by common man and critics alike. Voted # 7 in USA Today’s AdMeter poll. AdAge’s critic Bob Garfield gave the spot from TBWA/CHIAT/DAY LA 3 out of 4 stars and said: 

“You know how there's always a path of destruction when your rhino stampedes through the living room? Here we see it dramatized, along with glimpses at other unruly pets, such as wild boars, ostriches, etc. Then the payoff title card: "Maybe you should get a dog." Very funny, and a nice way into Pedigree's pet-adoption do-gooding.”

Barbara Lippert, AdWeek critic, said in light of or collective “economic discontent:"

“...Pedigree's payoff is that the spot promotes doggie adoption. Who could be against that? Plus, it's not like it pulls on our heartstrings by showing skinny big-eyed dogs plaintively staring at us from cages. It's unexpected and civic minded -- with a bigger idea than where our next bowl of kibble is coming from. “

I agree with both yet think there was an opportunity to make an even better impact. While the concept and execution were both well done, the opportunity was missed for a strong call to action, such as visit their website to donate NOW or adopt a dog NOW. Upon visiting the site after the game there was a new flash intro that tied-back to the Super Bowl spot; however, the message was focused on a different (albeit still good) cause from the commercial: watch a video and we’ll donate a meal to a dog. Wow. Where’s the single-minded focus? How to actually adopt a dog or donate towards the effort should have been front and center. You got me all excited by waving a proverbial big red ball, said we were going to the park, then led me to the...backyard. Hey it’s still playtime but not quite the same.

Frosted Flakes

As I said before, good idea well executed by Leo Burnet, the original creators of the iconic Tony The Tiger (who makes a brief appearance in the spot). But the whole notion of Frosted Flakes sponsoring healthier living and youth athletics seemed a bit of a stretch and moreover, as Adage’s Garfield noted, the dots weren’t connected for the average viewer:

“Talk about your grass roots. Pretty photography and slick CGI draw you into this smart exercise in branded community involvement -- Tony the Tiger's repair of 55 athletic fields around the country. The "Why Frosted Flakes?" is a bit elusive here, but it ties into the brand's (feeble) "Earn Your Stripes" program, equating breakfast candy with personal growth. Anyway, explaining that would have been grrrrrreat”

AdMeter poll ranked it in the bottom 3rd, 36 out of 50 spots. But unlike the higher rated Pedigree spot, at least they had a clearly articulated closing call to action: “Help decide where [to rebuild athletic fields] at Frosted Flakes .com." At the time I write this, the website shows 572 nominated fields.


A third cause-related ad was from GE as part of their “ecomagination” campaign featuring eco-friendly products, services and solutions from the conglomerate. Promoting their “SmartGrid” technology it was less of a conceptual reveal than the previous two and more a straightforward play of the iconic Scarecrow song from Wizard of Oz. It likely resonated well with the expansive demo that watches the Super Bowl and came in at 22 on AdMeter. But $3 million and probably another $1 million plus on production costs and yet no one thought it important to clearly communicate a consumer benefit. “SmartGrid technology from GE will make the way we distribute energy more efficient simply by making it more intelligent.” What the heck is a SmartGrid and more importantly why should I care?

United Way

Finally, a spot from the United Way and NFL brought us year two of a youth fitness program with a text to donate call to action. While unclear if this was a free PSA or paid ad, the creative fell flat and underserved the important message. Enough of the PowerPoint-esque animated type spots (see Starbucks and Pepsi new campaigns). And as a lifelong Cowboys fan I love Jason Witten on the field and because of that I happen to know he was named the Home Depot Neighborhood MVP for his off the field contributions, but he’s not exactly a household name that creates buzz.

All in all, kudos to all for having the strategic wisdom and gut instincts to run cause-related marketing messages on the biggest stage and during a down economy. Of course with any attempt at “doing good” comes extra scrutiny. And in this case, any press IS good press.