What's in a Color?

I’m looking outside my window right now and I see color everywhere:  burnt reds of turning leaves, golden yellows of the fields, fading greens from summer flowers … and pink. Lots and lots of pink.

I see pink baseball caps and pink sweatshirts. Pink sneakers, towels and mouth guards on NFL players. Even the opposing team for my son’s U-10 soccer tournament was wearing pink socks.

October is breast cancer awareness month. And thanks to breast cancer organizations and the breast cancer community, October is not just flooded with the colors of fall foliage, but the entire month is also awash in pink.

I, for one, am grateful.  My mother and step-mother are both breast cancer survivors. So is one of my dearest friends. I’ve had a mammogram every year since I was 35 and am reminded every year that it’s time to make my next appointment. Keeping awareness high for this disease is crucial—it’s still the third most deadly cancer in the United States.

But, as a fundraiser, I’m also very conscious that wearing my pink football jersey or buying a pink mug for my daughter is not a replacement for making a donation to my preferred breast cancer organization.

Of course, not everyone knows that only a small percentage of your purchase makes it to an organization (if, of course, any at all—I have no idea if the money from the pink socks that the Strath Haven football team wore this weekend went to any breast cancer cause).

But what I do know is that more and more corporations are realizing that to win over consumers and increase brand loyalty, they need to either directly or indirectly illustrate their own social good. And with billions of dollars at their disposal, they have the opportunity to illustrate their case (whether you agree with it or not) more frequently, more prominently and, oftentimes, more effectively than anyone without such a robust promotional budget.

I used to talk about how fundraising was becoming increasingly difficult because of the exponential growth of other non-profits. While this is still true, direct marketing fundraisers are facing additional competition from an unlikely source.

Corporations have found us out—they’ve seen our success, studied our tactics and know what it takes to build engaged and loyal communities. While strong creative and strategic planning are crucial for success, what corporations are doing differently is using their well-cultivated and engaged community to recruit brand ambassadors. Their brand ambassadors spread their brand farther and more authentically than any of their own mass-produced marketing campaigns ever could.

At the core of this shift is how brands are now trying to position themselves as sharing consumers’ values and beliefs, all while making them feel good about themselves. Sound familiar?

Look no further than the current campaigns running right now:

  • Visa Checkout’s campaign with Under Armor never mentions the brand, but chronicles the historical barriers women athletes have overcome interspersed with contemporary female athletes

  • Dick’s Sporting Goods campaign is about a young athlete from the inner city who plays lacrosse (Dick’s is never mentioned in the commercial at all)

  • GAP’s “one million women” campaign is its own education program supporting the women who make GAP clothing

While many corporations are starting to see the impact of associating their brands with social good, TOMS (the online shoe retailer founded in 2006) has built their entire company around giving.

Blake Mycoskie, Founder and Chief Shoe-Giver at TOMS, is at the forefront of social entrepreneurship and spoke at the recent Direct Marketing Association’s annual conference.

Telling the story of the first time he saw a pair of TOMS in public, Mycoskie spoke with a young woman who had a passion for the TOMS brand. “’This is the most amazing company in the world!’” the young woman exclaimed. “’When I bought this pair of shoes, they gave a pair to a child in Argentina.’”

“She had watched all the videos of on YouTube of us giving away shoes,” Mycoskie added. “She didn’t just buy the shoes – she was engaged in the content and she was sharing the content.”

“When you incorporate giving, your customers become your greatest marketers,” Mycoskie observed.

“A critical goal for marketers is to forge a connection not just between their products and their customers, but their purpose and their customers,” said DMA Senior Vice President of Communications Lindsay Hutter at the same event.  “What Blake and his team at TOMS have accomplished has become the envy of every brand marketer.

While increasing consumers’ awareness about the need for philanthropic dollars is always a priority, imagine a future where you ask someone to name their top three charities and instead of naming Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army and Red Cross, they name Starbucks, the GAP and Target.

Food … and a pair of shoes … for thought.