Last night I heard about the Kohl’s Cares program — where the retailer is giving away $10 million in $500,000 chunks to 20 schools. By diverting advertising funds into philanthropic projects, Kohl’s has joined other companies such as Pepsi who are also re-allocating advertising budgets. For example, so far, Pepsi’s Refresh Project has donated $1.25 million to 31 different charities.
This fundamental shift in focus–from interrupting people to helping them–is something that most businesses aren’t ready for. As someone who has played the corporate game for more than a quarter century, I’ve witnessed first hand the nasty corporate politics that ensue when budgets are discussed. Nothing is more dangerous than a middle manager with a threatened budget.
But there’s something more important than corporate politics that execs must consider with such a shift. Past advertising budget transfers have simply shifted money from one way of interrupting people to another. But “giving” instead of “paying” is a totally different animal, requiring a shift in employee skills. Advertising requires lots of creative and media-buying skills. Philanthropy requires those skilled in administration.
Philanthropic projects come with added responsibilities. Anyone who gives to a social cause must also ensure that the money is being spent wisely. Philanthropy requires a long term commitment, something that companies with big ad budgets have never had to worry about when simply writing a check for advertising services.
This trend to combine philanthropy and advertising (philanthrotizing?) is worth watching. Will it work? Only time will tell. But in a tough economy, where corporations are viewed as pariahs and shoddily run local governments are filing for bankruptcy, philanthrotizing may create an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
Photo Credit: Wonderlane