Posts Tagged ‘causes’

money and meaning, good money

I’ll admit. I think about money a lot. After high school, I worked with AmeriCorps, a national service organization. My rite of passage into adulthood was when the government gave me food stamps to supplement my AmeriCorps volunteer stipend. On my way to get groceries in my AmeriCorps asssigned community, I remember walking past tin houses where first generation immigrants from Laos lived and past children who were chubby but malnourished because there was lack of access to affordable, nutritious food. So when I handed my food stamps over to a cashier for my groceries down the street, I thought about money a lot.

Recently I was introduced to Laurie Kauffman whose life is dedicated to helping companies understand the meaning behind a transaction. What did this experience do for the customer? Did it feel “right,” or did it leave the customer feeling empty?

Laurie Kauffman leads Net Worth Consulting, a Washington D.C. agency dedicated to making the axiom give back more than you take a profitable part of a business. Kauffman says that when companies “touch money, they should also address the point of what a customer wants to get done.” This means to Kauffman making sure that every touch point with the customer delivers an experience that feels worth it. “I’m fighting cognitive dissonance!” says Kauffman. “It’s like when someone uses a product, it makes them feel good. But they aren’t really sure if it feels right.”

As a young adult, Kauffman started to see the worlds of money and meaning collide. She watched her friends struggling to start nonprofits and for-benefit businesses. The nonprofits pitched individuals with money so that they could make something meaningful, while the for-benefit businesses couldn’t figure out how to break past the noise of how consumers connected their money with meaning.

Kauffman went on to receive a Master’s in Finance to begin consulting companies about offering what feels right to the customer. Her journey took her to of all things, improv. Fully Invested, Kauffman’s book published in 2011, talks about how principles of improv are signposts to delivering something meaningful to a stakeholder. A focus on creating trust, thinking about the “we” instead of “me,” and an approach to interacting with others based on “yes.. and?” instead of “yes… but?” are key. This kind of emphasis on a participatory philosophy between the company and a stakeholder can dissolve the dissonance felt by a stakeholder. For the company and its stakeholders, these guidelines of improv creating something meaningful, and it drives profit too.

How did I make meaning from money out of high school when I thought a lot about money (and poverty)? I took into consideration others’ point of view and said “yes… and?” when I marched home with my food stamps from the grocery store knowing that my experience, what felt right, was more important than money.

To learn more about Laurie Kauffman and her book, Fully Invested, go here. To see her Forbes contributions as The Improv Lady, go here.


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I’ve already confessed my newfound love for Levi’s jeans to my friends. And now I’m confessing my crush on their new (well, relatively new) interactive, social media campaign that started in the fall of 2010.

Scene 1: Let’s start with the tag line. “Shape what’s to come. For you. For your community. For your world.”

Why do I love thee? And why do I put thee on my blog? Because these words ignite in us a desire to make something better, to dedicate ourselves to a larger social cause. As one of my favorite feminist poets Audre Lorde said about her power, and the power of what I see as Millennial women redefining their purpose in the context of social good, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Scene 2: How does the campaign develop around this theme, and why do I care?

I’ll admit. Sometimes I drag my feet. There are definitely expectations which I get from society that say I should be getting close to being married; I should be having kids soon; and I should already have dedicated my 30 or so years to a long-term career path that I’ll be doin’ forever. At the same time, I’ve got another track playing in the background of my life. It is promoting my strength as a young woman who carves her own path.

Shape What’s to Come research sheds light on how women around my age are changing the meanings of womanhood which our mothers grew up in and we still internalize to an extent. What the research says is that Millennial women prioritize independence and shaping their own futures as independent women more than they prioritize marriage, being mothers, or having a long-term career plan early on in their careers. But like our mother’s generation, who began to challenge limited ideas of womanhood, Millennial women need mentors to help them be who they are and want to be. Essentially, we need mentors to help us challenge these internal voices that impose limiting expectations on us.

Lindsey Pollak, a lead collaborator on the Levi’s® Shaping a New Future study, says in a press release announcing the launch of the campaign that the traditional paradigm is being replaced with “a web of opportunities that Millennials sample throughout their twenties, representing a different approach from previous generations. These women are challenging long-held beliefs about success as they navigate a complex world.”

And so it’s not necessarily about us looking up to women older than us for mentorship. It’s about us reaching out to each other globally and locally regardless of age and location that helps us realize who we are in a world that provides with a sometimes overwhelming amount of choices.

Scene 3: The video…

The following video is so good that when I first saw it, I thought it was simply a creative collaboration of Millennial women. It tapped into ideas of who I am and what I want so well that I had no idea it was a commercial.

Here is the video that first lead me to this advertising campaign.

The video rides the successful bandwagon of “movement marketing.” It positions the Levi’s brand as the centerpiece (and at the same time “not in the center”) of a demographic’s thoughts, beliefs, and visions. The campaign is like Dove’s Campaign for Beauty, which I was very proud to be a part of when I worked with girls doing programming about self-esteem with Dove’s cause marketing partner, the Girl Scouts.

In other words, movement marketing is a social movement of sorts. And in this case it’s Millennial women reshaping how they envision and contribute to the world.

Scene 4I am a story. You are story.

“I am a story. You are a story.,” painted on one of the women’s hands, weaves together everyone’s vision of the future and their place in it. They push the envelope and find a creative spark within. In the video you can see how the “higher benefit” of a Levi’s product is like any good advertising copy. It inspires Millennial women to know and contribute to the world.


The campaign’s website content, online community, events (like the launch event this past October in London in the above photo), and videos are driven by Millennial women redefining who they and expressing this to each other. Millennial women who are leaders in music, art, fashion, and social change serve as mentors and help guide conversations between Millennial women in the online community. These women range from celebrities like Zooey Deschanel to Millennial leaders like youth advocate Ashley Rhodes-Courter.

The conversations range from the simple, “What is your favorite photography website?” to more complex issues, like conversations about a video on the site about one of Levi’s cause marketing initiatives with WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security, a nonprofit that empowers women to own their own green businesses).

Curtain Call: The following video is from the first Women’s TED conference which got quite a bit of buzz in Washington D.C. this past December; TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It’s a nonprofit which is dedicated to spreading ideas that push the envelope of how we envision society and the future.

Since Millennial women are like TED in that they are envisioning new ways which they contribute to the world, Levi’s created a strategic relationship with TED.  The video has more than 150,000 hits so far. It helps wrap up this blog post with final scene and curtain call.

This blog post is featured as a guest blog post at See3 Communications, a Chicago online marketing firm that works with social causes. It is also a guest post at Millennial Mafia, a project from Ragan Communications.

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I sauntered into the Gap on North Avenue this weekend with my “Give and Get” promotion coupon that landed in my Yahoo inbox around the middle of last week. In a classic “buy one, give one” cause marketing promotion, the deal is that you get 30% off Gap clothing, and a nonprofit of your choosing will receive 5% of your purchase. Since I’m still ill-equipped to deal with Chicago’s winter even after living here for two years, the promotion motivated me- as it was intended to do- to shop at the Gap.  So I visited a Gap and I used my coupon.

After thinking about it Sunday night, at home with my new Gap sweater, Gap changed its reputation by the very strings that barely held it together in 1999-2000.  When I studied Women’s Studies in Santa Cruz and lived in a co-op, Gap was practically a dirty word. On Santa Cruz’s campus and everywhere, Gap was critisized for manufacturing its clothing in sweatshop factories using child labor.

The strategy of Gap protests in Santa Cruz (inspired by a lively women’s studies community in the Bay Area) meant protesting in front of  Gap stores naked (naked women using their power for political expression- it gets people’s attention!). Walking by the Gap in downtown Santa Cruz and seeing the gawkers watching these naked protestors (one of my roommates from the co-op included), I remember thinking, “I will never set foot in Gap again.”

Ten years later, it’s like a chime that goes in my head when the brand’s associations with “social responsibility” shoot past the clutter of associations that I have with brands nowadays.  It’s a sound that rings at a different pitch than the brand association that I had of the Gap before.

I don’t think the Gap is perfect, but it’s done a good job changing its image in my thirty-year-old mind. It motivated me to buy a sweater for another Chicago winter despite the negative brand image that it accumulated over the years.

To read more about Gap’s work with the Red Campaign, which is a cause marketing initiative/brand campaign with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis, go to http://www.joinred.com/red/.

Photo by Pavel Trebukov @http://www.flickr.com/photos/pntphoto/3205172116/in/set-488550/.

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Here in Chicago this October, I saw the color pink everywhere I went. Walking from a dance performance at Harris Theater in Millenium Park to Michigan Avenue on a fall evening, I looked over to see the Smurfit-Stone building, known to many as the Y- building, or “The Vagina Building,”  lit with the color pink. I was used to seeing “pink” products in Susan G. Komen’s Breast Cancer Awareness pink ribbon cause marketing campaign in the grocery store this fall, but I was surprised to see it in Chicago’s skyline that evening  (quite cleverly placed I might add).

What is cause marketing? One of the more concise and simple explanations of cause marketing can be found on Alden Keene’s Cause Marketing website (see below) where the blogger Paul Jones describes it as “a relationship that bridges cause and commerce in ways that mutually benefit both parties.” The Pink Ribbon campaign is a litmus test in cause marketing.  But does it influence awareness about breast cancer (and solicit funding to Susan G. Komen) in a meaningful way, or does it reach a tipping point when it seems to be everywhere without appearing to be anything special?

So this a big question, I realize that.  But I wanted to start coming to terms with this question by trying to put in words what went through my head when I saw the pink flood lights in the sky.

Seeing pink everywhere this fall reminded me of the concept of “normalization.” Don’t yawn, it’s actually pretty interesting. My Women’s Studies background makes me want to break it down according to Foucault (a social science philosopher who critically analyzed issues of power, knowledge, and social institutions).

Normalizing to Foucault meant how society makes something appear normal and how we in turn conform to social norms. The pressure to be what we perceive as “normal” appears to come from everywhere yet nowhere. The metaphor that Foucault is well known for using in order to explain this is the prison watch tower; as long as the prisoners (us) perceive ourselves as being watched, we monitor our actions, and the actions of others, even if a prison guard is not there.

Is the pink tower in the sky something as influential as Foucalt might suggest? Does it serve to normalize breast cancer awareness (and supporting pink products to help fund breast cancer research) in any kind of meaningful way? Will you find yourself next October in the grocery aisle reaching for a product with the pink ribbon, because you don’t want the people down the aisle to shun your cold, heartless face?

Normalizing and the pink ribbon tower… maybe that’s one of the ways that cause marketing has connected social causes with profits this October.

Alden Keene’s website, blogged by Paul Jones, is “Cause Marketing: Dedicated to Highlighting and Dissecting the Best and the Worst Cause Marketing Promotions and Campaigns” is at http://causemarketing.blogspot.com

(photo by Hirotomo of a Tokyo tower @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelstar/5046809289/in/faves-29654410@N02/)

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I would call it a journey… it began two years ago when I changed everything.  I moved across the country to Chicago to begin a master’s program at DePaul in Public Relations. Before looking into master’s programs, you probably could have called me an idealist. I was working in grassroots advocacy, especially with social causes affecting women.  I was relocating not just to a new city but trying to reframe my plan for the future. Could I see myself working in nonprofits forever?

Everyone who has worked in a nonprofit knows that it has a heart and soul, but it has limited resources. As someone who had been a lobbyist, program coordinator, outreach specialist, event coordinator, and teacher (you name it, we wear a lot of different hats in the nonprofit sector), simply “doing good” wasn’t satisfying anymore. I wanted to make bigger connections, bigger relationships, with more resources.

Soon after moving to Chicago, I googled the words “social cause” and “marketing”  in my small Logan Square studio. Definitions for cause marketing popped up on my screen. I learned that cause marketing is a strategic link between companies/brands and a social cause that mutually benefits both partners.  I realized (HELLO!- Eureka!), I don’t have to decide between working in the nonprofit or private sector. I can do both!

This blog will highlight my quest to understand the growing role of social causes in all its shapes and forms in marketing, advertising, and public relations. Seeing Susan G. Komen’s annual Pink Ribbon campaign on buckets of chicken at KFC and seeing cause marketing on more and more products in the grocery aisle every year, means that thinking critically about how social causes are connecting with profit is more important than ever.

Looking at how this trend takes different shapes and forms as well as resonates or doesn’t resonate with “everyday” people like me, might prove that business isn’t a dirty word. Even if I thought it was a dirty word when I was an undergraduate beginning my nonprofit career.

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