I nearly went to the Cause Marketing Forum this week. Their site defines its origins: "It was 21 years ago today (approximately) that cause marketing was first unleashed on America’s teeming shores in the form of the 1983 American Express Statue of Liberty Restoration campaign."
"Cause marketing" in an informal sense certainly goes back further than 21 years. My opinion is that the strongest offering is when your cause is baked into your product and/or service, rather than have it as a do-gooding add-on. Some companies that come to mind are Flickr and Craigslist, often cited in blogging circles.
But I'm challenging myself to look beyond the digerati for inspiration. This post from Fortune's Business Innovation Insider blog last November has had a very profound ongoing influence on me. It challenges Ben & Jerry's: "Does encouraging charitable giving, environmental responsibility, and fair labor standards compensate for the obesity encouraged by its products and marketing campaigns?" And continues:
"Based on that excerpt from Rushkoff, What example can you provide of a company that does its good works from the inside-out, as its primary function rather than merely a portion of revenues? Some examples Rushkoff includes in his book are Honest Tea, conceived from the inside out as a way to reduce sugar intake and provide jobs for aboriginal people, or Voxiva, a successful for-profit company born out of a non-profit idea to provide healthcare connectivity in developing regions." -- "Goodness, Outside and In: Douglas Rushkoff Contest #4", Fortune Business Innovation Insider, November 25, 2005
I've already written that I'm feeling about the food and drink options at Starbucks precisely how I feel about McDonald's. This might lead you to assume I've cut all sugar and caffeine from life. (Mantra: Middle way, middle way.) Not so, for instance, I eat more chocolate now than ever before (that's up from near zero). Yet I'm more finicky about my chocolate. It needs to feel and taste as natural and high quality as possible.
The famous artist and potter, Beatrice Wood, once quipped, "My two great joys in life are chocolate and young men." Of course she lived to be 105. (There, I finally found an opportunity to use that quote ;-))
In the Asia Spa Nov/Dec 2005 issue, there is a writeup on the innovative and successful Soneva resorts and Six Senses Spas. One of their newest creations is an "Earth Spa" that doesn't use air-conditioning, is built from rice husks, straw and local mud [which itself to be honest is not so new and is exactly the kind of "terrabricks" that Habitat for Humanity and other NGOs are used for tsunami relief homes]. The resort spas have organic gardens onsite with their own perma-culturists so that their salads are served ripe and fresh. They distinguish themselves from other resorts because they innovate from the inside-out. People I know who've stayed there, gush about the experience.
The quote that struck me from the Soneva folks: "As a team we all love dreaming up things. But the future of luxury is in nature and natural things. Organic, clean, pure; that is really a getaway."
Theo Chocolate is new chocolate factory that's baking their cause into their products.
The key things I noted from an article below are 1) founder's personal mission and passion stems from an irrevocably life-changing experience 2) current chocolate market is "hot" so it's getting harder to stand out; they're unique, distinguish themselves by being first factory in US devoted to producing 100% Fair Trade chocolate 3) they attempt to make what is ordinarily an industrial workspace whimsical, "loud and beautiful", for instance by painting machines a cheerful lime green 4) the writer begins this story very sexily, because chocolate is inherently sexy 5) aligned with current trends of freshness (short shelf-life because lack of preservatives) and use of local suppliers with personal connection, such as organic family farms. Snippet below:
"Standing inside a cavernous building in Fremont [WA], I inhale the rich, dank smell of fermented cocoa beans as lime green machines throb all around me - crushing, melting, tempering and conching. A decadent square of mint ganache made from dark chocolate and fresh organic mint leaves melts on my tongue.
It's hard to believe that this is the old Red Hook Brewery, now home to Theo Chocolate, Seattle's first and only chocolate factory (the name is short for Theobroma, Greek for "food of the gods")...
For the past year and a half, Theo Chocolate founder Joe Whinney - along with Music (his ex-wife), chocolatier Autumn Martin and production manager Dan Donahue, a former Caffe Vita roaster - has been buying chocolate-making equipment, importing organic cocoa beans and assembling the first factory in the country devoted to producing 100 percent Fair Trade [indicates the grower is receiving fair market price and engaging in responsible labor practices: no child labor, no discrimination, no union busting].
Whinney, 39, (Known as Whinney Wonka around the factory), traces his interest in the chocolate business back 20 years ("30 pounds ago," he jokes), when he was working as a conservation volunteer in Belize. "There were a lot of do-gooding gringos like me who wanted to help out," he says. "I realized that social and environmental degradation were economic issues and thought that a market approach was necessary."
The chocolate market was a natural fit. "I fell in love with cocoa," Whinney says. "Cocoa is one of their main crops, and it had tremendous cultural relevance for them, which really resonated with me. And at the time, the organic market was much smaller, and there was no organic chocolate that I was aware of."
Though grown organically, the Belize cacao was not certified as organic, which was the case in many of the countries where cocoa beans were grown. [Article goes on to recount how Whinney taught himself the chocolate business in 1990s to supply certified organic chocolate to companies such as Newman's Own Organics. More about the process of creating chocolate bars and confections...]
The mint [used in one of their 13 confections], which I eagerly sampled, comes from an organic farm in Duvall, and [former pastry chef Autumn] Martin infuses it into the cream to make the filling...
At press time, Theo is expected to be selling its chocolate bars locally this spring and internationally by the end of the year. But the confections, which have a two-week shelf life, are confined to the Northwest (find them at Whole Foods and PCC) and certain specialty shops outside the region. Which is fine by me - they're too good to share." -- "Candyland", Seattle Magazine, May 2006 (not online)
Bonus: Background reading, try Trading Up: Why Consumers Want New Luxury Goods...and How Companies Create Them and Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out, by Douglas Rushkoff (blog)
p.s. Hooray for Bill Gates devoting and committing his full time to his foundation. I wonder though what a for-profit like Microsoft could do from the inside-out, baking goodness within, though...hmmm....
images Flickr photo by Kiki J, Soneva Earth Spa, Theo Chocolate art logo. Alas many intriguing chocolate Flickr photos are 'all rights reserved'; check out this artful plateful from Laederch Chocolatier Suisse, the fairytale Gaudí chocolate factory in Barcelona, the beautiful chocolates from "Cacao Et Chocolat, a wonderful Paris chocolate shop", and the delicable art of MarieBelle chocolates on Prince St., NYC