According to Aussie start-up mag Shoestring last week, Cavil and Co in Australia have released a piece of research that reveals that associations with charities persuaded three million of our Antipodean generation X and Y cousins to switch brands last year. Brands supporting charities is nothing new, but now that charities are becoming better organised and more media savvy, maybe there’s something in this result.

Since we realised that we choose brands that represent our own values and standards, just as we choose our friends, companies have been trying to find ways to convey their personalities in that vital fleeting nanosecond of customer selection. We’ve fine-tuned and honed devices like packaging and logos and continue to do so. We also recognised that just like people, brands are defined in part by the company they keep, so smart businesses have been reviewing their distributors and how they treat their product and trying to influence that.

On that same theme personality endorsements have played their part for a long time. Well-known figures have been recruited to represent products in a somewhat symbiotic relationship that provided brands with an instant expression of their values. George Clooney appeals to a certain kind of both men and women who clamour to align themselves with him by drinking his (Nestle’s Nespresso) coffee, women express their inner Julia Roberts (whatever that is) by wearing Lancome perfume. The list seems endless, but personalities are risky and, where actors are concerned often too mercurial for a brand that’s looking for a consistent and stable representation of their personality. Partnerships have also been forged with other brands that are associated with traits they aspire to. Struggling airline Gulf Air sponsored the McLaren team at the Bahrain GP last week, I guess in a desperate attempt to appear, fast, efficient and cool. From my perspective sponsoring a car that was visibly struggling and a team that has clearly lost its way might be a bit of a shot in the foot by the airline, but I guess beggars can’t be choosers!

Charities, may not be risk-free, but they are less inclined than rock-stars or actors to be found in flagrante delicto with an under-age hooker and they’ve certainly made great strides in defining their own brands in recent years. The trend was established by Anita Roddick’s The Body Shop way back, but its all hotted up now and all of a sudden it seems charities are the de facto alter-ego for many brands. From my perspective most brands entering into these kinds of relationships still need to learn a trick or two in fully exploiting them, but that too is a learned skill that I am sure they will develop with time.

Clearly Aussies have bought into this short-hand and I guess it can’t be bad for either the brand or the charity as long as both parties behave. Time will tell.

Phil Darby
April 13, 2014

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