Branding for social change
Companies are using their financial muscle to bring about change.
LEVI’S uses the sex appeal of its products to sell safe sex and SABMiller SA uses taverns to teach men about responsible drinking in philanthropic programmes that benefit South Africans.
The irony of this is not lost on the leaders of corporate social responsibility programmes.
Mike Joubert, of the Levi Strauss Foundation and former Levi’s SA president, said: “We realise the spirit of our programme is provocative and [appeals] to youth sensuality. This is one of the challenges.
“The language we use to sell jeans is the language we use to convince young people to take an HIV test. It’s a catch-22. If we change our tone, it will not be believable. We need to use the coolness.”
Exploiting brand power to effect social change is a balancing act.
But Levi Strauss SA, SABMiller SA, Conde Nast Traveler magazine and Johnson & Johnson SA have proven they can walk this wire without falling; either into the trap of window dressing or creating programmes that will not survive hard times.
Executives of these companies led a panel discussion on how to pull this off, along with the director of dance4life, an NGO with global appeal. The panelists spoke to Young Global Leaders in Cape Town on the fringe of the recent World Economic Forum meeting.
Each year the WEF identifies 200 to 300 high-achieving Young Global Leaders.
These “extraordinary individuals drawn from every region of the world” combine forces to tackle global challenges like health and education.
Finding creative solutions and effective partnerships against the HIV epidemic in Africa was the topic of the panel discussion they attended at the Masiyile High School in Khayelitsha.
When it comes to building a reputation, Masiyile achieved this on its own despite scarce resources. Its successful exam results attracted more than 4000 students within years of opening.
But, back to corporate brands and HIV.
Levi’s stands out, not only for the scale of its Red for Life programme for consumers – promoting HIV testing, a concert against HIV and branded condoms – but also for its seven-year track record.
In tough economic times Levi’s seems to have a solution: not a magic formula, but a common sense solution to sustain it.
The company has turned its “social responsibility” drive into a profitable enterprise, selling more jeans in May.
SABMiller SA focuses on its workforce as much as on its consumers.
The beer giant has its “Men for Development” programme in taverns on Saturdays, which targets irresponsible drinking, HIV- Aids and gender violence.
This has reached about 500 men in the last few months and attracted their female partners.
Andrew Wales, head of the sustainable development programme, said: “HIV is a threat to our core business, like water scarcity.”
He said SABMiller SA had three workplace programmes depending on HIV prevalence among staff.
“Our challenge is to test as many of our employees as possible and that was 44percent [up from 34percent]. We reached 9000 employees and 900 spouses,” Wales said.
“We are taking the lessons we have learned from Africa, which is ahead of the curve, to India and Ecuador.”
Conde Nast Traveler news editor Kevin Doyle was asked how readers of the magazine felt about messages being rammed down their throats.
“We believe they want the truth and want to help preserve the populations [where they travel] and the environment,” he said.
Conde Nast has thrown its weight behind the Five and Alive campaign and had raised funds from corporate sponsors and its readers towards this project.
Johnson & Johnson president of global access and partnerships Ben Plumley said the company prioritises partnerships with programmes in its field, such as microbicide or technology development.
“It’s like trying to turn a tanker around in the Atlantic Ocean. It takes time,” he said of building health in societies.
The NGO dance4life was founded by Dennis Karpes as a global initiative to protect young people against HIV-Aids.
The organisation aims to train one million “agents of change” by 2014, teaching them life skills through dance, music, media and events.
But this NGO, like the Society for Family Health and its funder PSI (which hosted the panel), have been hammered by donor cuts.
Moderator Kate Roberts from PSI said programmes should look at “win-win strategies” that benefited companies and the NGOs.
She said when their Youth Aids programme partnered with Aldo Shoes, sales went up 40percent.
One global leader, Virginie Bays, suggested approaching government for incentives to support corporate responsibility programmes.
This article was sourced at www.timeslive.co.za