This week I was asked to join a panel to debate the rise of cause related marketing and discuss if “Doing good makes for good advertising”. 

I head up the sustainability team at O2, and have to prove the worth of our ‘good deeds’ to the business.  Particularly to my marketing colleagues.  So this is something I’ve thought about for some time.

My first point is that “advertising for a cause” or “cause-related marketing” is insufficient to answer the challenges we face as a society   Wikipedia defines cause-related marketing as a business and not-for-profit working together on a cause for mutual benefit.

This concept of doing good needs to be radically reframed.   A partnership with a charity is a powerful  foundation for a business but it is no longer enough for customers or employees. You need to look at the hard facts for recession ravaged Britain to see why.

With 1 million young unemployed, and growing levels of food and fuel poverty, cause-related marketing will never be enough.  In the face of these social stresses, companies have to look more fundamentally at their social purpose. How can they really super-charge the social difference they can make? Are they really mobilising their unique skills to enhance their partnerships with charities? What more could they do?

It is this fundamental reappraisal which will enable the UK to answer the challenges we face.

This is the journey O2 has been on since 2008 when we asked our customers and our people how we could really make a difference.  They had high expectations for us to make a real contribution to the environment and young people.

The programme we developed –  Think Big – has bold goals to help 1 million young people gain skills for life and enable 10 million people live more sustainably.  A key part of this has been our work with young people where we developed an enterprising grants programme that gives money and training directly to young people to launch and lead their own projects. The critical point was for this programme is be driven “by young people for young people”.

Three years on and we have helped thousands of young people in partnership with 60 NGOs – but we wanted to do more.

We had to do more and actually we needed the firepower of two businesses with a shared mission to make a difference.

This was how Gothinkbig was born.

Although GoThinkBig does have marketing goals, there is a much more fundamental purpose to democratise work and skills opportunities through a cutting edge web platform run by young people for young people. And through access to 9,000 work and skills opportunities.

But we have realised this isn’t enough and we need to supercharge our efforts by bringing on board more UK businesses to support the platform and offer additional work skills opportunities for young people. By collaborating with others, we’ve helped to broaden the scope of GoThinkBig, increase the breadth and variety of opportunities available and are really helping young people to find what they need to get into work.

This is what some of us at O2 have dubbed movement marketing – its power is judged not just by awareness but the degree to which you collaborate with others to effect real social change. It’s about a more radical approach to using marketing for social good. It about challenging your business to create a movement for change with its people, customers, suppliers and other partners.

But let’s be clear that doing good is also good business. All the evidence shows that many consumers prefer to choose a brand that makes a difference. And so do our people – seven in ten say Think Big makes them feel more positive about the company helping created a great place to work. We’ve added already value for our customers whilst raising money for Think Big through O2 Recycle. And we’re benefitting from the insight and innovation that a generation of digital natives can bring.

So does doing good make for good advertising?  That’s not even half of it.



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