Why aligning your brand & corporate citizenship program matters

In the 1990’s, M.A.C. Cosmetics hired RuPaul, the now famous drag queen, to be the first face of M.A.C AIDS Fund[1], a grass roots effort to make a difference in the world with community outreach for HIV/AIDS. The disease, which was highly stigmatized at the time, was largely misunderstood and underrepresented. That being said, M.A.C. Cosmetics took a strategic risk. They hired a drag queen, fought for a controversial issue, and by doing so planted a stake in the ground as a pioneer in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Not only that, but they addressed a social issue that was effecting their customers, employees, and community. The issue was risky, but also relevant to the brand’s core through its major stakeholders. Now, not only is the company one of the largest corporate non-pharmaceutical givers providing support for a cure[2], but established their brand as a leader, with risk-adverse competitors being followers. As corporate citizenship programs have become wildly popular in terms of supporting education, gender equality, and countless other worthy initiatives, there is also a lot of ‘noise’ in the corporate philanthropy space. It is critical for corporations to consider this ‘noise’ when deciding to focus on a cause area.

What M.A.C. did was a risky decision, but the decision reinforced the brand – by supporting its customers, employees, and community – and brought a voice for an issue. This brings me to my main point, imagine if instead of companies fueling crowded philanthropic sectors – they really considered causes in need, which aligned with the brand, and fostered support for the issue. I think my point is easier explained in examples than in theory. Imagine if Mini Cooper supported Little People of America, a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families. Not only would Mini Cooper be able to have a larger impact (due to the smaller amount of funds the organization receives), but Mini Cooper would then establish themselves as a leader in corporate citizenship. Another example, if you’re one of the 450 companies that still have Native American mascots[3], first, I encourage you to change your mascot to stop exploiting a group of people for your personal gains, and then I encourage you to support the indigenous population of the Americas. If you teamed up with The American Indian College Fund, a nonprofit that provides American Indians with student scholarships, you would be able to help rectify the brand mistakes of the past and be a leader in support of a cause area lacking major corporate funding.

Is this important? Yes, it is. Without seriously considering your corporate citizenship strategy, the program will be limited in its effect on your brand, ROI, and most importantly impact - because they aren’t unique and limit risk. As a brand strategy professional, if you’re considering developing a corporate citizenship program I would encourage you to find the asset that makes your brand special and then find an organization and cause area related to your purpose and make your own. Be like M.A.C. and define a complicated and controversial issue. Heck, if you work for Mini Cooper and are reading this – take our ideas – high tides raise all boats. Let’s continue to be a culture of risk takers and create value for brands and society.

If you need support on your corporate citizenship strategy, please contact Win at

[1] "AIDS Fund." MAC AIDS FUND. MAC Cosmetics, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.

[2] Toal, By Robin. "Top Ten Donors for HIV and AIDS Projects Worldwide - Funds for NGOs." Funds for NGOs. FundsforNGOs, 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.

[3] Wilson, Chris. "These 450 Companies Still Use Native American Mascots." Time. Time, 18 June 2014. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.

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