Sports and marketing have come a long way since a young Pittsburgh Steelers fan offered Mean Joe Green a Coke in the classic 1979 television commercial. For one thing, the audience has changed. The oldest millennials were just being born in the late 70s, but now comprise one quarter of the U.S. population. Highly coveted
A few weeks ago, Chester Cheetah, the beloved “spokescat” for Cheetos, joined Twitter as @ChesterCheetah with a campaign to reach 50K followers. And when he does, “a family gets a kitten.” Chester Cheetah is just the latest of many brand mascots that have taken social media by storm in recent years. Furthermore, digital media is allowing brands to create more developed story lines and detailed backgrounds for their mascots, resulting in consumers becoming more drawn to the characters, and, of course, to the brand and product they represent. The insurance industry has made quite a splash with its brand mascots, including the GEICO Gecko and Allstate’s “Mayhem,” launching YouTube channels and earning verified Twitter accounts (i.e., celebrity status). Creating such humorous and quirky characters allows insurance companies to engage with consumers and help them better understand the complex insurance offerings, while also staking a claim in the competitive insurance landscape.
Take Progressive’s “Flo,” the now infamous female insurance broker who dominates the company’s commercials. Known for her humor and larger-than-life personality, Flo is the same way on Twitter – posting witty one-liners and tips on insurance topics of interest, things making the news, and Progressive Insurance offerings and updates. She has over 19K followers on Twitter and more than 5 million “likes” on Facebook; Progressive’s Facebook page only has 58,000 “likes”. Flo is featured in many YouTube videos and has led social games and giveaways through Facebook and Twitter.
The Way I See It
- I see online and social media allowing brands to further develop characters and brand mascots to be more than just the face of the brand, but standalone, likeable characters. They have colored histories, interests, and well-defined traits. Brands have found success in fully developing their mascots, as consumers are more likely to engage with and like more complex characters.
- I see companies taking risks with brand mascots on social media, as it allows them to test how consumers respond to initiatives without making too much of an investment. For instance, M&M’s sassy Ms. Brown held a live video chat with Facebook fans and even has her own Pandora music-streaming channel, both of which take the traditional social media campaign one step further.
During the holiday season, helping others is on many people’s minds. We see more charitable branding and increased advertising to encourage people to give – to capture the true spirit of the holidays. Right after the shopping whirlwind of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we celebrated “Giving Tuesday” with the hashtag #GivingTuesday trending on Twitter. Many large charities are encouraging donations on social media, among other platforms. Text a number and you can donate $10 to American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Salvation Army volunteers are ringing their bells on street corners and outside of suburban shopping malls. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital launched a Thanks and Giving campaign across a variety of platforms – television, online and print– partnering with a number of nationwide retailers to allow shoppers to make a donation to St. Jude during in-store or online checkout.
For most large companies, a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy is a key component of each annual strategic plan. Charitable giving is a large component of that plan, and the holiday season is prime time. Certainly business giving back is the right thing to do as a matter of societal obligation. The question to consider is whether it actually helps build brand loyalty and makes business sense from a marketing, advertising and sales basis.
The Way I See It
- I see more companies and influential brands not only making CSR strategies a significant part of their annual missions, but also striving to make CSR a part of their corporate identity and brand. CSR has become a part of branding, marketing, and advertising efforts year-round.
- I see new start up’s, especially in technology, social media and new products/services, have as their core positioning – a CSR backbone, and this as an element that both motivates the participants and attracts like-minded customers.
- I see consumer brands continue to strategically partner with charitable organizations to integrate the process of raising funds for the charities with purchasing consumer goods and services. I see marketers, advertisers and charities recognizing a real win-win.
- I see skeptics who say “CSR is dead” and argue against strategies involving charitable giving – for instance, a business school professor recently published “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility” in The Wall Street Journal. In a tough economic environment where every expense must be challenged, I see the increased use of hard data to support the economic proposition that CSR is good for the long term, and if done right, even better for the short term.
- I see increased regulatory scrutiny of charitable giving and tie-in’s. With the rise of social media and web giving, there is a greater opportunity for fraud. Many states strictly regulate such programs. In October, the New York Attorney General’s Office issued “Best Practices for Transparent Cause Marketing,” after conducting a study of various CSR programs to benefit breast cancer.
The Way the Industry Sees It
I sat down with Dorothy Jones, Vice President of Marketing at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to discuss Corporate Social Responsibility and what it means for branding, consumer engagement, and the importance of being strategic.
In what ways have Corporate Social Responsibility efforts evolved in recent years? Did the financial crisis and the current state of the economy have an impact on charitable giving efforts?
We did not see a change in commitment from our corporate partners overall, although we did see the impact of the recession and unemployment in certain industries and in fundraising from individuals, which we expect will improve as the economy improves. This tells us that business people understand the value of their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility programs especially in difficult economic times. This kind of commitment allows us to meet the extra demands for services that organizations like ours provide to people in need.
How important are the holidays to charities in terms of fundraising? Is there a seasonality to charitable efforts?
The holidays are always a special time in general. Organizations also experience their own seasons – for example, we do a significant amount of fundraising in the fall during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in the spring, around Mother’s Day, when people are remembering, celebrating, or honoring the women in their lives who have faced breast cancer.