According to Setnicka, the average Patagonia buyer is not only buying a very quality piece of clothing, but he also believes that he is investing in “cleaner air, land and water.” The company has been promoting its efforts to use 100 percent organically grown goods in its products, absorbing the financial drawbacks of working with these smaller, more expensive growers. This kind of real-life commitment from Patagonia is apparently paying off: the company has enjoyed a constant growth in sales volume since 1996.
But one of the sweetest philanthropic corporate efforts has to come from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, which commits 7.5 percent of its pre-tax profits to philanthropy.
Chrystie Heimert, the company’s director of Public Relations, is quick to point out that Ben & Jerry’s is “shy” of Cause Related Marketing. “Cause Related Marketing is a tough gig,” she says. “We prefer the idea of Values Led Marketing, and our people are trying to support programs that are replicable and sustainable.” Ben & Jerry’s “built a business on the concept of Values Led Marketing, making a difference at the root of a problem, as opposed to throwing money at a problem.” According to Heimert, the company has a threefold mission, which is to promote the company’s product quality, ensure its profitability, and live up to its social mission.
“We don’t have customers at Ben & Jerry’s,” Heimert says, “We have fans.” These fans are “incredibly involved” with the brand, routinely logging onto the company’s website, sending email, and calling in about the corporate responsibility programs – programs which include everything from fighting the greenhouse effect to sponsoring the 1999 World Bog Snorkeling Championships in an effort to raise money for various local charities.
The employees at Ben & Jerry’s all seem to share that casual but committed tone of roadies following a cool band. Heimert pointed out that Ben & Jerry’s staff is left “pretty much alone” to run the company the way they see fit. To this end, she confides that Ben & Jerry’s has even given a substantial sum of money to fight globalization despite the worldwide scope of its parent company, Unilever. In fact, Unilever, the proud parent of this slightly rebellious company as of April 12, 2001, has added US$ 5 million to its philanthropic efforts with a minimum commitment of US$ 1 million per year.
Indeed, The Man might own Ben & Jerry’s, but the boys still rock to their own tune. The company keeps a separate board, which focuses on its social mission and the integrity of the brand. And the folks who work there all seriously believe that good ice cream just might change the world. “Values Led Marketing offers Ben & Jerry’s a point of differentiation,” Heimert points out. Giving publicly to causes that are congruent with the interests of the company or its customer is a “part of our brand identity,” she says.
But it’s a commitment that is sometimes completely at odds with the bottom line. For instance to supply the relatively high-cost brownies used in various ice creams, Ben & Jerry’s engages the Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, which employs the formerly homeless and other low-income people… and which charges more for the brownies than the company could find elsewhere. Another example of good intention, bad bottom line, is the Eco-Pint, a chlorine-free packaging that took three to four years in the making, according to Heimert.
“The challenge of Ben & Jerry’s was presented to us when we turned twenty-one a few years ago,” Heimert says. “[Co-founder and the ‘Ben’ in Ben & Jerry’s] Ben Cohen got us together and said ‘kids who turn twenty-one have to take care of themselves.’ The challenge became for each employee to take charge during the merger [with Unilever]. We all felt accountable for the passion and social mission [of the company].”
As the company expanded, became more profitable and lost the start-up mentality, upholding the values required more attention. “Cause Related Marketing,” she says, “does not change the brand.” The employees at Ben & Jerry’s instead started to ask themselves “What good can we do with the brand and make an impact on a big global company?”
But there’s a lot more involved than just finding a cause on which to hang your brand. “The key is to look for root causes that make sense for the brand,” says researcher Cone. She points to the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk as an example of people – and employees – becoming “enveloped in the brand.” The company’s commitment toward beating breast cancer has created a huge customer base for Avon (whose tagline “the company for women” indicates immediately why it might have chosen this particular cause), and an improvement in employee loyalty. “Avon literally walks the talk,” she says, “and once you have earned accolades [for good works], the consumers want to know about it.”
So what advice would these brand managers give to those who wish to build corporate philanthropy into their own brand identity? Start with a set of fundamental values, rather than merely throwing money at a good cause. Lee Holden, Ben & Jerry’s Senior PR spokesperson, said emphatically, “If you just slap a cause on to your efforts, it’s not real.” The values that managers choose to embrace have to be in line with those of the company, and, most importantly, those of the customer. “We want customers to be activists as well,” says Setnicka at Patagonia.
If companies want to instill Values Led Marketing into their program, Holden says it’s essential to “make sure you have people working for you that believe in the company’s principles.” You also want to make sure you listen to your customers, and put in place what Holden calls “an active consumer affairs department.” As he explains, “Our customers control our social mission activities; it’s pretty amazing.”
But during all that, it’s important not to lose sight of your product or service. Setnicka and Heimert are both at pains to point out that a company’s first priority is to the quality of its product. This is why Ben & Jerry’s spent so long creating the Eco-Pint, and Patagonia strives to make a shirt that lasts longer and stays brighter than that of its competitors. “We weave quality into our environmental initiatives,” says Setnicka. “We didn’t want to do the right thing for the environment and go out of business doing so.”
But the programs are not without naysayers. On November 5, 2001, the Guardian (UK) ran an article questioning the good that Cause Related and Values Led Marketing does. “The harsh logic of marketing-based funding necessarily excludes causes which will not foster a warm glow among consumers,” the unsigned article pointed out. Issues that people find hard to handle, such as domestic violence or little known illnesses, remain unknown and under-funded.
“Companies only want to fund things that have massive PR potential,” one worker in the medical charity sector told the Guardian, “and you simply cannot get money unless the cause is sexy and well-known.” In other words, spending an extra dollar on a product to save the rain forest or fight nuclear testing feels better than being reminded of the ravages of a little known cancer every time you visit the convenience store.
Earlier in the year, the New York Times ran an article querying the good effects of companies attaching their names to visible non-profit organizations (February 18, 2001). The article, written by Julie Edelson Halpert and titled “Dr Pepper Hospital? Perhaps, for a Price,” examines, in depth the ramifications of corporations lending their name to museums, sports complexes and even children’s hospitals.
Halpert points to a new book by Richard Levy, author of Give and Take: A Candid Account of Corporate Philanthropy, which reports that, for now, the relationship between non-profits and brand building corporations has remained simpatico. The problem might occur, however, once the non-profit sector becomes saturated with corporate names from either cause related branding campaigns or from companies that are honestly trying to build a value related culture. Once the novelty of attaching a corporation to a good works program wears off, what then?
The question may indeed be moot at this point. Philanthropy might, in the near future, be considered an integral part of any responsible brand campaign. Non-profits, on the other hand, are learning how to present themselves to corporations in such a way that they seem sexier and more supportable. This might mean that both companies and non-profit organizations will opt to dress up for each other.
Webb replies to the cynics by saying, “If corporate philanthropy makes the consumers and employees feel proud and good, and it gets valuable funds to social causes that need help, it is a win-win!” Lee Holden is more thoughtful on the subject. “There’s no road maps on how to do this,” he says. “Basically, we’re actually going to make a difference. And we reach millions of people.”