Monday, July 23, 2007

Commercial, or not?

This piece from the Baltimore Sun got me thinking this morning: Turning to corporate America to save the world.

It talks about how the lines are getting blurry between celebrity fundraising and the corporate sponsors who help make the events a success. Discussed specifically are Bono's Red Campaign and Al Gore's Live Earth concert event. Both of these are highly visible campaigns to support a worthy social cause. Both of them included extensive advertising sponsorships--necessary to make them successful.

But, is the mix of corporate advertising and fundraising all good?

From the article: "By intertwining political messages in corporate advertising, Mr. Gore and Bono are attracting support for their causes, but they are also blurring important boundaries between commercial advertising and politics. The emerging role of advertisers as gatekeepers for political messages is a trend to be feared, especially with a Supreme Court that stands ready to bury the doctrine that distinguishes commercial speech (which may be regulated to protect the public) from political speech (which is protected by the First Amendment)."

Of course, this is the author's take on this (Robert Koulish). And, he has more to say:

"Mingling commercial and political speech would allow corporations to mislead - even lie to - the public about such matters as product safety, product effectiveness and corporate profits. Another danger is that once corporations start calling the shots and setting the agenda regarding global warming or HIV/AIDS, potential remedies for these ills would likely be limited to those that are also profitable."

I'm really struggling with this. On the one hand, I do understand the fears of big corporations misleading consumers, hiding behind the good message of a good cause.

On the other hand, I like the fact that more and more people and large organizations ARE standing behind a good cause. They're putting their money and their time into it--why shouldn't their brand benefit?

Regardless on where you stand on this topic, I do believe that this type of partnership between a celebrity, a social cause and big business is here to stay. It's an effective way to raise money and let the corporation build their positioning and their brand.

Thoughts, anyone?


Ron Shevlin said...

I'm not convinced that "it's an effective way to raise money and let the corporation build their positioning and their brand."

It seems so old-marketing to me -- "hey, let's glom on to whats-her-name (whoever is hot at the time) and we'll benefit by association."

The marketing word of the day is authenticity. Celebrity partnerships seem so unauthentic.

And the potential for backfiring is huge: Ask the firms who do (oops, make that "were doing") business with Michael Vick.

Bottom line: Companies should build brand by their actions, not their associations.

Suzanne Obermire said...

Ron, Yes, companies SHOULD build their brand by their actions. But, their actions traditionally have included active participation in charitable organizations. These mammoth, global fundraising efforts (like Live Earth) steered by big-name celebrities are here to stay. If the company picks the right one, I think it can be a win for all.

However, you are right about picking the right cause and the right celebrity. A company needs to make sure that its brand is associated with the cause and NOT just the celebrity.

Ron Shevlin said...

I don't doubt that Live Earth-like spectacles (um, I mean, events) are here to stay.

But without getting too political, not everyone saw that as a rousing success.

So firms that jumped on the bandwagon may not have seen the brand equity improvement they might have hoped for.

In the end, I think you'd agree that at a minimum, firms should very consider carefully which (if any) of these events they want to be associated with.