The Santa Claus we all know today -- that big, jolly man in the red suit with a white beard -- was brought to us by Coca-Cola. From 1931 to 1964, Coca-Cola advertising showed Santa delivering toys, pausing to read a letter and enjoy a Coke, visiting with the children who stayed up to greet him, and raiding the refrigerators at a number of homes. Those images stuck with us, and Coca-Cola influenced an entire culture to change.
The biggest problem facing homelessness today is most people believe that homelessness is the result of the homeless person, and therefor they should not be helped. But the truth is: it could be lack of affordable housing, the economy, or lots of complex situations people are powerless over that can cause homelessness. A good portion of the general public literally believes homeless people have no redeeming value, and that they are less than human!
- Nonprofits spin the story to raise funds. That's not a bad thing, they have to fuel their mission, but the general public is fed wrong information that creates disbelief and wrong stereotypes
- Media spins the story to show homeless people as drug addicts and less than human, which again reinforces wrong stereotypes
- Government likes to share data at an academic level. The general public does not really understand information distributed by governments.
They say necessity breeds innovation, which is how I started with cause marketing. In 2009, I was laid off from a 3 month grant at a winter shelter. I got the idea of a national road trip but needed a car, and more importantly - I was looking for a major brand to help fight homelessness. Ford Motor Company stepped up to help and for about two years my iPhone's photos and YouTube videos synced to Ford's website. Right around that time Chris Brogan took notice of the crazy amount of socks I hand out to our homeless friends and connected me to Hanes, and for the last 4 years Hanes has been helping me with socks and getting the word out about homelessness.
Let's face it, people don't listen to politicians, research professors, or nonprofit executive directors. But major brands and their marketing firms are experts at changing behaviors. Like how Coke gave us Santa Clause, Hanes is now helping to fight homelessness.
I think there are a few lessons we can learn from this: funders who support ending homelessness need to start funding awareness and educational campaigns if we are ever going to really end homelessness. Unless we change what people think about homelessness, ending it will never happen! For brands, it's OK to connect with the homeless cause. Brands can build mutually beneficial relationship with homeless nonprofits. The key is to be genuine in messaging and to not make the campaign over-the-top commercial. People are sick of the sales pitch, and by mixing it up and making the message about the cause and not the brand, the brand will in turn reap huge benefits. Probably the biggest benefit that is hard to measure, is how proud employees become when a brand does good things! Basically, the one simple lesson from all this I hope will resonate with everyone is: if you do good - good things will happen!