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5 Ways Causes And Companies Got Together For The Big Game

Brands didn’t just blow big bucks on the Super Bowl to help their bottom line alone. Here’s a look at some lessons from the major social responsibility efforts in play last night.

There were two big winners in last night’s Super Bowl. One is obvious, the Seattle Seahawks. The other maybe a little less so–the causes and companies that supported them.

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Typically advertising at the Super Bowl is an obscenely expensive enterprise that is reserved for some combination of blue chip marketers (who can afford the $4 million price tag) and riverboat gamblers who stake their company’s future by waging too much money on a one-time bet (anyone remember the sock puppet and pets.com?).

This year brought us something a little different. On top of ads that were generally more upbeat and inspirational was an unprecedented display of corporate social marketing that was as strategic as it was creative. Here are five things that stood out to me:

1. Good Business and Good Causes Can Go Hand in Hand.

The Cheerios ad received a lot of attention for its reprisal of the bi-racial family that brought out the best and worst of our society last year. But flying further under the radar was the fact that this spot was part of a bigger relationship with the Family Breakfast Project— an initiative designed to encourage more families to eat together. Numerous studies show how critical that time is for children to connect with their parents. The fact that they can do so while eating Cheerios is as pure a case of a win-win you’ll see in the realm of corporate social marketing.

2. Make a Difference with the Assets You Have.

Bank of America has money. RED has Bono. Using 60 seconds to preview a new U2 song and inviting viewers to download it for free (underwritten by Bank of America whose funding will go to support RED’s AIDS work) shows what can happen when groups come together for a good cause by bringing to the table what they do best.

3. Anthems Should Inspire Us to Act.

There was no shortage of authentic ads last night designed to make us feel good about something (in most cases America). Invariably, they are beautifully produced works of art with striking vistas, serious faces, sparkling scripts, all set against celebrity voiceovers or haunting tunes. At the end of 50 seconds of good feelings, a product shows up. Sometimes awkwardly. Contrast this to the Chevy spot, in support sport of World Cancer Day. Absolutely poignant and spot on strategically. At the end, we feel. But we’re also compelled to act.

4. Doing Good Doesn’t Have to Cost a Fortune.

Not every company that made a difference last night had to start by writing a large check to Fox. Skittles went a different route. They announced a long-term relationship with Seahawks running back, Marshawn Lynch. When he performs well on the field, they will add seed capital to his Fam 1st Family Foundation designed to help children. So when he crossed the goal line in the second quarter last night, $10,000 was deposited into his new Foundation’s account, with the promise of more to come.

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5. Stay True to Your Core and Good Can Come.

Supporting a cause doesn’t always mean finding a nonprofit partner. It starts by looking at your business and asking: “Is there a way I can move my business and move the world forward?” It’s not about setting aside a corporation’s fiduciary responsibility. It’s about leveraging it. Intuit turned a Super Bowl spot into a carrot for potential small business customers. By setting up a contest where small businesses could vie for a chance to win that spot, both the businesses and Intuit (makers of the small business software QuickBooks) got to know each other better. By championing small business, Intuit was supporting a “cause” that was core to their business success.

Ultimately, it will take some time to figure out exactly how successful these efforts were. How many people downloaded the U2 song, helping fund important work to eradicate AIDS? How many more families have sat down to eat breakfast with each other thanks to Cheerios efforts? Are more people having smoother roads to recovery because of Chevy? Is Marshawn Lynch’s Foundation making a difference in the lives of struggling youth? Are more small businesses managing their money better in part because of Intuit?

I hope the answer is yes to all the above. But getting these answers will take a little time. In the meantime, these companies should feel good about their efforts. We know from various studies that their customers, employees, and even shareholder’s certainly do (on that last point, did you know that companies who invest in corporate social responsibility efforts enjoy higher share prices?).

Over the next week or so, we’ll continue to see coverage falling out of the big game. Is Peyton Manning’s legacy tarnished? Can the Seahawks repeat?

At water coolers and in boardrooms around the country, I hope that this morning they’re asking themselves another question “How can we get in this game?