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Corporate Philanthropy

C³: The Exponential Power of Company-Cause-Culture Partnerships

Companies can achieve more than traditional corporate social responsibility efforts by partnering with celebrities.

This fall, New York’s Central Park rocked like never before. But while the Global Citizen Festival looked like any other multi-celebrity charity concert, it was a bit different.

For one thing, virtually none of the 60,000 attendees paid to see Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Bono, Kings of Leon, Elvis Costello, and Jake Clemons. Instead, they earned their tickets in part by taking action; they signed petitions, shared awareness-generating videos, and took other steps toward ending extreme poverty by 2030.

Attendees also earned “points” toward tickets by signing up for HP LIFE. Created by the festival’s official technology partner Hewlett-Packard (HP)—and reflecting its mission to find solutions to business concerns in ways that positively affect society and the planet—HP LIFE is a free online platform that supports promising entrepreneurs and aspiring agitators worldwide by providing interactive courses on topics such as inventory management and creating Facebook ads.

When the festival staff decided to highlight five HP LIFE entrepreneurs from the Global South, musician Jake Clemons joined the partnership. He recorded a video introduction to an online contest for people to select their favorite of the five entrepreneurs, offered an exclusive early release of his new single to those who voted for and shared the stories of these five entrepreneurs with their networks, and otherwise became the face of the campaign. He also honored the winner, Weaver’s Hut Founder Bano Fatima, on the festival stage.

This cooperative partnership enabled a win-win-win scenario for HP, Clemons, and the cause to end global poverty. HP identified itself with a hip artist in Clemons and with a worthy cause, thus expanding its brand to a younger generation. Clemons garnered non-traditional exposure through HP’s marketing channels, while highlighting his passion for entrepreneurship. And the cause itself has benefited; since its inception, HP LIFE has expanded more than 25,000 businesses and created more than 57,000 jobs.

As mutually beneficial as such a partnership may be, getting a major company that cares about its brand image to partner with a musician, for whom the term “corporate sell-out” is anathema, is no small feat. It can be a challenge to find a cause that fits organically with both groups. However, with growing consumer demand for socially and environmentally responsible companies and products, companies and artists are finding that they have shared interests in the cause space and that partnerships are increasingly necessary to reach consumers, especially Millennials.

According to a 2010 study by Cone Communications, 68 percent of consumers consciously make cause-related purchases. About 25 percent of consumers are “emotionalists,” usually female, between 18 and 35, who will make cause-based purchases if the cause is emotionally compelling, personally relevant, and does not necessitate significant lifestyle changes.

Another survey conducted by Scarborough Research in 2012 found that respondents between the ages of 18 and 29, and especially women, were more likely to buy a brand that supported a charity.

The 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study also discovered that 80 percent of consumers are likely to switch from a brand that does not support a cause to one that does, if the brand price and quality are on par. Nineteen percent of consumers will buy a more expensive brand if it is related to a cause, and 61 percent of consumers are willing to try a new brand or unknown brand if it is cause-connected.

Finally, a study our own team commissioned in 2012 from Pulse Opinions Research found that 28 percent of consumers between the ages of 18 and 39 supported a humanitarian, environmental, or social cause endorsed by a celebrity they liked, compared to only 13 percent of consumers between the ages of 40 and 64, and 8 percent of consumers 65 and older. The survey also revealed that celebrity-cause partnerships had to feel authentic to influence consumers effectively; only 3 percent of Millennials said that they would be more likely to support a cause if they knew the celebrity spokesperson were paid. Clemons—by indicating his strong support for economic empowerment, writing a song that reflected that support, and making it clear that no one paid for his endorsement—ensured the authenticity of his participation in the HP LIFE-Global Citizen partnership.

Effective cause partnerships between companies and artists can build meaningful engagement between consumers and the messages and products associated with that partnership. But they require genuine passion, careful architecture, and plenty of room for creativity.

Connecting company, cause, and culture is a lot like composing music. You can create sublimity or chaos using the same eight notes. Your creation can fall apart, or it can generate something greater than the sum of its parts—an experience that’s truly special and meaningful, and therefore valuable, to the consumer.

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