In a recent Levi's advertisement, Marshall Hart stands under billowy clouds, looking into the distance, holding a shovel across his shoulders. He wears a long-sleeve shirt, a rugged-looking work vest and a baseball cap.
No, you've never heard of Hart. He's a 29-year-old farm director and one of several real-life residents of Braddock, Pa., who appear in Levi's new "Ready to Work" ad campaign. It is part of the Levi Strauss & Co. brand's "Go Forth" campaign, which also includes TV and movie-theater spots and an hour-long special that will run on the Sundance and IFC channels. All those productions showcase the struggling blue-collar town outside Pittsburgh and the optimistic people who call it home.
The townspeople represent "the pioneering spirit of America rooted in the character of the clothing," says Doug Sweeney, Levi's vice president of brand marketing. Levi's has partnered on the campaign with Wieden & Kennedy, an Oregon-based independent ad agency. It all began, Sweeney says, with the idea that "real work plus real people equals real change."
"Go Forth" is not just advertising but a true corporate social responsibility campaign. Why? Because Levi's is doing some serious charitable spending to back up its message, donating more than a million dollars over two years to fund the restoration of the town's community center and supporting a farm in Braddock that employs townspeople while supplying restaurants and the local farmers' market with produce.
Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, means companies aligning their values with a greater good and taking action to have a positive effect. They often do so through "cause marketing," joining forces with nonprofit organizations and focusing ad campaigns on those philanthropic relationships.
CSR campaigns seem to be everywhere these days, from Pepsi Refresh giving away millions for ideas for improving the world to Tide sending a mobile fleet of washers and dryer to areas hit by natural disasters. Why are more companies than ever flaunting their good works this way? Partly, experts say, because they realize that their employees want to be part of a business that does more than just make money. Ann Charles, the chief executive officer of BRANDfog, says CSR activities improve employee cohesion and give a company a fresh sense of purpose.
CSR marketing also helps attract customers who may be more loyal because of shared values and beliefs, Charles says. But every CSR effort must be genuine or people will spot its phoniness, and when they do they are sure to spread the word via blog or Twitter or Facebook. "The obvious lesson is that if you are going to do this, do it for the right reasons," she concludes.
Backlash is always a possibility. In April the breast cancer awareness and research organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which has raised nearly $1.5 billion since 1982, teamed up with KFC for a "Buckets for the Cure" campaign. The fast food chain gave the organization 50 cents for every special pink-colored bucket of chicken it sold.
Its intentions may have been good, but bloggers and other media voices quickly observed that a standard eight-piece bucket of original recipe chicken has 1,600 calories, and obesity is believed to increase the risk of cancer. There were accusations of "pinkwashing," meaning an unhealthy product trying to improve its image by giving to breast cancer-related efforts. The best KFC officials could tell CNN was that the fast-food chain offers something for everyone and that they were also selling pink buckets filled with lower-calorie grilled chicken.
With so many companies advertising their socially responsible activities, just making a gesture isn't enough. You've got to show that you mean it, and you must keep the public updated on your progress and do more than expected to get noticed. Allen Adamson, managing director of the brand development firm Landor Associates, says "you need to go well beyond the cost of entrance."
Victoria Taylor, Forbes.com. July 9, 2010
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