Charity badging models ‘reek of inauthenticity’

Charity partnerships have got to be true to the brand’s core purpose, according to Getty Images CMO Susan Smith Ellis, or consumers will not believe in the cause.

Susan Smith Ellis Getty Images

As Marketing Week reported earlier this week, corporate-NGO partnerships are evolving. According to the latest C&E Advisory Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer relationships are becoming much more sophisticated, moving away from simply being a cash-based badging exercise or reputation building initiative.

Susan Smith Ellis, CMO at Getty Images and former CEO of AIDS charity RED, agrees the nature of charity partnerships is changing, and says whitewashing and charity badging models “reek of inauthenticity”.

READ MORE: Corporate-NGO partnerships won’t work if they are simply a badging exercise

During her time at RED Smith Ellis worked with partners on a global basis to help combat the AIDS pandemic in Africa. As a result of her work she has been selected as jury president of the humanitarian aid jury for the D&AD Impact awards, which rewards ideas that take a unique approach to supporting humanitarian causes, including initiatives that provide material and logistical assistance, as well as businesses that repurpose their services in imaginative ways in times of need.

Marketing Week caught up with the CMO to talk about the changing nature of charity partnerships and why people want to work at organisations that make a difference.

What do you think is a mark of success in humanitarian campaigns and partnerships?

Authenticity matters. What is it about the cause or the work that [brands] are trying to accomplish that is true? You can take a very nice idea and stick it on your company or brand but it [has to be] true to the brand purpose.

What is it about this particular brand and the marrying of that brand with the cause or idea that makes sense strategically? It’s important to not use these things as a whitewash as people see through that. You can’t just pretend that you care about [something]. It reeks of inauthenticity.

Do you think corporate intentions have changed from badging to incorporating partnerships into business strategy?

I do. A lot of the consumers that companies wanted to reach are now working inside those companies. In terms of reaching all your stakeholders – not just your customers but who you hire – people want to work with companies that make a difference.

I think it’s much truer to the DNA and they see the commercial benefit in it as well. You can do well by doing good.

Do you think there’s a movement towards recognising this type of work within industry awards?

The more you can celebrate it and can see that you can do wonderfully creative work in these categories the more people will be attracted to doing that great work and having impact with it.

Do you think everyone will be aiming for an ALS/Ice Bucket Challenge type model now or is there more creativity to come?

It’s hard to think [up ideas like that]. I don’t think when [ALS developed the idea] they thought it would have the resonance that it did. You can’t look at things like that and think how do I create my ALS moment, it seems so forced. You have to do interesting and compelling work and see where it goes.

You were CEO of RED for four years – what drew you to that role?

It wasn’t about me wanting build brand awareness for the AIDS crisis – I came to care about the cause later – it was believing in the power of communication and brands.

The model was interesting – how do you harness the power of brands and their audiences to try and build awareness and raise money for a cause that is a far away issue for many people? To me that was a compelling business model.

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