Big Names Walk the Talk, and Everybody Wins
Angelina Jolie's visits to refugee camps in Africa, Oprah and Harry Connick Jr.'s efforts to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, and Bono's rallying cries on behalf of global poverty and the AIDS epidemic stand out among A-list celebrity do-gooder initiatives. Celebrities bring cachet and visibility to cause campaigns like no other marketing tool. But, experts say, they must be sincere.
"When you have an actor or a musician, somebody who has committed that kind of energy, it's usually very genuine," says Liz Heller, CEO of Buzztone, a boutique marketing agency specializing in cause-related marketing. "Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger...I think that when you look at, say, Don Henley [of The Eagles] and what he did for Walden Pond he really believed in it. Or Neil Young and The Bridge School."
Environmentalist and producer Laurie David, wife of "Seinfeld" cocreator Larry David, may not consider herself a celebrity, but her showbiz connections and drive helped get Al Gore's slide show made into a movie. "An Inconvenient Truth" has reinvigorated public discussion of global warming and put Gore on the map again.
David also famously convinced her husband to write the hybrid Toyota Prius into episodes of his HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm." That helped inspire "Curb Global Warming."
"Does it really help [to have a big name attached to a cause]? Absolutely," Heller says. "But it really matters when they've gone that extra step and really take it on as a life issue."
Katya Andresen, vice president, marketing, of Network for Good, says the pairing of celebrity and cause has to be a good fit. "What works best, not surprisingly, is when a celebrity has an authentic interest and sort of walks the talk," Andresen says.
Celebrities who speak out on a cause tie their reputations to it no small risk for someone in Hollywood, says Heller, noting the work of celebs such as George Clooney and the globetrotting Jolie. But once the association and credibility are established, celebrities can use their standing to encourage others to act.
When the Dave Matthews Band announced in June that it would offset 100 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from its tours since 1991, partnering with NativeEnergy and Clean Air-Cool Planet, the notice included a call for fans to do the same in their daily lives.
Infusing a cause campaign with celebrity appeal can benefit corporate partners, too. YouthAIDS and shoe retailer Aldo created "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil," a campaign that shows celebrities covering their ears, eyes, or mouths. Celebs such as Cindy Crawford, Eve, and Bow Wow donated their time. The campaign garnered two Halo awards from the Cause Marketing Forum.
Andresen calls this kind of campaign a win-win. "Aldo sold more shoes and gave YouthAIDS a wonderful platform for their message."
Celebrity chef Jacques Pépin donates about a third of his time each year to good causes, often by cooking or teaching about food. The self-effacing chef says he doubts that anyone outside the food world knows his name, but he can't deny that a meal he cooked for six people this summer pulled in $20,000 at auction.
The auction benefited "Cook for the Cure," a campaign by Digitas and KitchenAid to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Chefs Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, and others joined Pepin in raising more than $100,000 at auction. The chefs also held fundraisers in their homes.
"The first two 'Cook for the Cure' dinner parties were held in Bobby Flay's home and Sara Moulton's home," says Brian Maynard, director of integrated marketing at KitchenAid. The famous names brought awareness and cachet to the campaign, he says.
Pépin autographed KitchenAid mixers, held a "Cook for the Cure" fundraising party, and attended events for the campaign. This summer, Pépin opened his Connecticut home to the people who won his services at auction. Pepin says it typically takes four or five days to prepare such dinners. And he usually asks his guests for requests -- for $20,000, it had better be something they like. "You cannot give them Manischewitz," he says wryly.
"To a certain extent, I've been very lucky, and I'm making good money now," Pépin says. "I think it's good to give back a little bit to the community."