By  on October 31, 2007

Inundated by marketing for causes, can people still be moved by corporate do-gooders?

If there's a message that's sincere, transparent and meshes with a brand's own values, chances are they can, said marketing executives and social responsibility experts who met to discuss the issue. But if cause-related marketing is perceived primarily as an attempt to move a brand's merchandise, it is likely to be a lot less successful, or even an outright failure.

It can be a fine line to tread, particularly when money is being raised by high-profile brands like those contributing to the (Red) effort for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Those brands include Gap, which is donating 50 percent of the gross profit from its (Red) holiday apparel sales to the cause; Emporio Armani, which is kicking in 40 percent of its (Red) fashion profit this season, and Motorola, which is giving $8.50 of the proceeds from each (Red) RAZR it sells nationwide.

(Red's) moves to raise funds and awareness to fight AIDS has received mixed responses, said (Red) president Tamsin Smith, with "some younger people feeling it was completely cynical," and "some other people feeling it's positive that we are doing something."

In an interview after participating in the discussion, Smith said, "We're moving from the marketing of egos to the marketing of values, so [we're] going to draw some controversy."

Mike Indursky, chief marketing and strategic officer at Burt's Bees, said, "I pity the company that thinks 'What green event can we do?' How sad."

Burt's Bees is lobbying in Congress for passage by mid-2008 of a bill that would require products labeled "natural" to be at least 95 percent natural and the companies offering such products to make at least 60 to 65 percent of their goods worthy of the natural designation in order to get the seal.

Timberland is a corporate do-gooder Indursky admires, a nod he gave during the group discussion sponsored by Self magazine, where participants were asked to name some favorites. Also earning a thumbs-up from the group were Wal-Mart, for its moves to recycle and renew resources; Sony, for recycling parts of used electronics, and Starbucks, for the straightforward way it has been communicating its programs aimed at doing good. (Like WWD, Self is published by Condé Nast Publications.)

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