Brand/Cause Partnerships: GMC And Invisible People (Part II)

In “We First” I promote brand and cause partnerships because they provide benefits to both parties. Today we examine what is the benefit to a cause that partners with a company?


In We First I promote brand and cause partnerships because they provide benefits to both parties. Building on Part 1 of this story that examined the benefits to brands, today we examine what is the benefit to a cause that partners with a company? I had the great pleasure of speaking with Mark Horvarth, founder of Invisible People about the rewards of partnering with GMC.


SM: Hi, Mark. Tell us what is the value to you and the homeless cause that you’ve discovered through working with GMC?

MH: Obviously brands have to sell products. If they don’t, they can’t fuel any missions. For me, the Terrain is awesome, the gas is awesome, the homeless people love it, but the most important thing is relationships. For me, how I work with brands — my strategy — is that people don’t listen to politicians anymore. They don’t want to listen to a ‘homeless expert,’ but if you have Pepsi or GMC or Hanes or DoubleTree talking about the issues of homelessness, it becomes validated and people start paying attention. It’s also validated my efforts when big brands partner with me, and all I am is this little guy screaming really loudly about homelessness and poverty, it increases the impact. It all goes together and literally because of all this housing programs have started. There were people who were homeless that slept inside last night because of Invisible People.

SM: That is such an incredible, tangible difference. It’s also really important the way that brands engage — whether they do it authentically or whether it is thinly veiled self-promotion. Can you talk to me about how important it is for brand to be truly committed?

MH: What’s interesting is that the best brand relationships I’ve made weren’t made in the traditional way. I didn’t make a request like a formal sponsorship deck. It was just a conversation that came up where we discovered we could mutually benefit each other. Next thing you know, we’re working together. Those have been the best.

SM: From your perspective, as someone who has been promoting the cause of homelessness, what do you see as the benefits to the GMC brand?


MH: There are a couple of things that happen. First off, there is a lot of talk about ROI. There’s very little investment, you know? When GMC loans me a car, I’m not saying it’s nothing, but it’s not as expensive as, say, a Super Bowl commercial. So the return is almost immediate and the investment is comparatively low. Also, through me, GMC now has a very long car commercial. Where your car commercial on TV lasts thirty seconds, I’m will be on the road until early November. So by doing it with the social media communities and influencers you have a ripple effect, where the conversation multiplies and multiplies. The end result is still to sell a car, but now people feel good about it.

SM: So it’s a really smart business strategy with a view to the bottom line.

MH: Right. I hope more brands come around. Cause marketing is growing. We have younger generations now volunteering more. It’s part of the high school, it’s part of the educational system. They have grown up with a heart change, where they want to give back. They care. When you research millennials, you see that they have buying power, and where they are spending their money is socially conscious organizations. This is why cause-marketing is growing.

SM: From your experience in working with GMC, what would your advice be to other brands who are still on the fence about whether they should engage with a cause that’s in alignment with their core values?

MH: My advice to other brands would be to go ahead, take the risk. Do something different. I’m not your normal marketing campaign. But again, your return is going to be huge compared to the investment. And it’s the right thing to do.


SM: What does it mean to you personally?

MH: Actually, it’s very humbling. Here I am, a little guy that started this with $45, an iPhone, a camera and a laptop. It’s just been amazing. Sometimes you wonder, should I keep on going? What’s it worth? What’s the end result? Should I go back into getting myself a normal marketing job? But when GM or another large brand comes along, it’s very humbling because this is all bigger than me and I am humbled that something I did has touched their marketing department, that touched their decision-makers in a way that caused them to help support this cause.

SM: Would you say that the results are real? Can you give some assurance to brands and customers that when they buy that product, because the brand is doing good, there are tangible results to show for it?

MH: Absolutely. Brands should pick non-profits not just because they’re sexy, but because they’re actually having results. Literally, because of InvisiblePeople.TV, here in New York, rooms full of policy makers of national homeless leaders are gathering together to plot out an outreach strategy for Invisible People. We’re talking national leaders from all the different organizations and we’re talking about getting people off the streets and into housing.

SM: Mark, I’m so thrilled that these partnerships are working out for two reasons. One is because they really do serve the cause that you’re so passionate about, but they also serve as a powerful demonstration to other brands and to non-profits to seek brand partnerships so we can really start to make a difference across the board. Thanks so much for your time.


You can follow Mark’s great work and the 2011 International Roadtriphere and follow him on twitter @invisiblepeople and@hardlynormal. Huge thanks also to GMC and the wonderful @lizstrauss for helping to make this initiative possible.


Reprinted from

Simon Mainwaring is a branding consultant, advertising creative director, blogger, and speaker. A former Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, and worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy, he now consults for brands and creative companies that are re-inventing their industries and enabling positive change. Follow him at or on Twitter @SimonMainwaring.

About the author

Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, the leading social branding firm that provides consulting and training to help companies use social media to build their brand reputation, profits and social impact. Simon is a member of the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the Center for Public Diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School, the Transformational Leadership Council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London