As I flew back home on Delta airlines over the weekend the flight attendant announced that all cans and bottles would be recycled using Delta’s Sky High In-Flight Recycling program. When I got home I looked up the program and ended up spending 10 to 15 minutes on Delta’s blog. Delta Airlines effectively used its CSR initiative to brand itself and in turn gained some respect from me.

In our CSR class we learned that a company should find a cause that fits well with the company’s image and the product/service to yield better results. Companies that have effectively branded themselves as socially responsible can charge up to a 14% price premium. Not branding CSR initiatives correctly is a missed opportunity for companies and marketing groups should be paying closer attention to using these initiatives in their branding efforts.

Not to pick on Pepsi but I would like to use this example to illustrate how CSR was not used effectively in a branding effort:

The Pepsi Refresh Project: In lieu of a Super Bowl commercial this year, Pepsi created a website allowing people to post ideas to improve health and fitness, art and culture, food and shelter, the planet, neighborhoods and education. People were then allowed to vote for and create support for a cause and in turn provide advertising for Pepsi’s program using social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Pepsi would then give away $1.3M to these winning ideas. This website has had approximately 1.1M visitors to date (the program ends on April 1st) and this project page has about 600,000 fans on Facebook whereas approximately 106M people watched the 2010 Super Bowl. Many reasons could have contributed to this poor performance but one glaring reason that stands out to me is the lack of fit. The ideas spanned across a wide spectrum which don’t necessarily fit Pepsi’s image or products and may not resonate with Pepsi’s target demographic. This example solidifies the need for a good fit and looking beyond philanthropy to successfully use CSR as a branding tool.

—Sole Bearer

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