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3 Min Read

A Brand New Idea


Communications Network member Eric Henderson, who oversees communications for Living Cities, a national initiative to increase the vitality of cities and urban neighborhoods, lets his former life in the advertising business show through in an intriguing article appearing on Adage.com. Henderson suggests that consumer brands (and the companies behind them) have the power, not just to help raise money for good causes – i.e. buy this product and we’ll donate to your favorite charity – but to serve as engines for driving real social change. 

Eric writes:

Traditionally, corporate charitable efforts have been stereotyped by the cutting of ribbons and photo-ops with facsimile checks  The vulnerability here lies in the strength of that stereotype. It still lives. And consumers are smart enough to accept the real check that lies behind the facsimile but still suspect a company as an interloperHowever, from there, let’s extend our thinking to consider a different way to be involved, i.e. through a philanthropic lens. For our purpose here, philanthropy is, yes, “doing good,” but at the level of social change in large and complex systems… Turning a bigger wheel to stop problems before they start.

Now, a facsimile check for a few thousand at a ribbon cutting can take up a second life as leverage to raise many times that amount and be dedicated to a longer-term problem-solving. The leading foundations and non-profits are long skilled at this model of leverage. Living Cities, itself a collaboration of 21 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions has used investments of $500 million to create over $16 billion in tangible community systems and assets. That is leverage. The current environment should wake us up quickly to the fact that the types of problems we face can’t really be met with less than the force of intelligent collaboration of organizations across multiple sectors.

On the flip side, Eric asks “What’s in it for the brand?”  His response:

Doing right for the brand in this case means recognizing the business value of engaging consumers on genuine terms that are also recognized as such…Be (and be seen as) committed, long-term players in the cities andneighborhoods where you do business.

[Advertising] agencies have traveled this ground for a long time now, being frequently called on to add a community component to major campaigns. I am proposing in broad stroke that agencies make this part of the offering more explicit and much stronger through collaboration and dedicating the same thought work to this component, even treating philanthropic touches in some instances as another media channel measurable by familiar numbers: goodwill contribution, awareness, reach, frequency, purchase intent, and whatever else makes your funnel. You won’t find a fit for every client or project, but it should at least be considered in the set.

You can read the full article here.

–Bruce Trachtenberg

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