As we move into 2015, I can’t help but reflect on the complexity and enormity of the issues we bring with us from 2014. More than 210,000 have now died in the ongoing conflict in Syria, more than 9,000 have died from Ebola in West Africa, and climate change continues to bring unpredictable damaging weather across the globe, displacing millions and damaging food sources.
These challenges, among many others, are not easily solved even by the most powerful governments or individual organizations. Addressing these wide ranging issues will require all of us to dig deep and take action across all social levels – individual, communal, non-profit, governments, and private sector. From my perspective, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the ideal mechanism to bring all these parties to the table – leveraging the strengths of each sector to accomplish real change. At Ogilvy, we can play our part by encouraging our clients, and prospective clients, to adopt strategic CSR initiatives and help them tell their story. This means forming smart partnerships between private and public entities that result in thoughtful, sustainable programs that generate real value for the company and organizations involved as well as society at large.
As I indulged in my guilty pleasure of watching The Voice Season Seven grand finale last year, I came across a CSR initiative that showcases a number of best practices for strategic CSR, Nissan’s Red Thumb campaign. Mid-way through the show, Adam Levine, one of the show’s celebrity judges and lead singer of Maroon 5, took the time to promote the Red Thumb movement and proudly waived his thumb on screen (along with the show’s entire audience) marked by a red rubber band.
The campaign, inspired by EVB advertising’s Steve Babcock’s program “Red Thumb Reminder,” aims to combat the dangerous practice of texting while driving. According to the US Department of Transportation, cell phones are responsible for as many as 1.6 million car crashes annually. “Red Thumb” draws inspiration from the old-time trick of tying a string around one’s finger as a reminder for something. The campaign appeals to drivers to mark their thumbs red (using whichever creative strategy inspires you) as a visible reminder not to text while driving.
Nissan’s Red Thumb campaign meets a number of key criteria that are important to consider when designing a strategic CSR initiative, including:
- Select a topic that aligns with the brand: CSR is truly strategic when the selected issue is clearly relevant and aligns with the brand’s purpose and values. When the connection between the brand and the issue is weak, the CSR initiative is less effective and appears less genuine. In this case, there is a strong connection between Nissan’s purpose, producing quality cars to enrich people’s lives, and the targeted issue, texting while driving.
- Establish relevancy to your target stakeholder: Texting while driving is a problem that impacts one of Nissan’s core consumers, young adults. Thirteen percent of drivers ages 18-20 involved in car wrecks admit to using their mobile devise at the time of the crash. By addressing an issue of real concern and relevancy to its consumers, Nissan can establish an emotional connection with its consumers and increase brand loyalty.
- Actively engage your target audience: There are a number of ways for consumers to engage with the campaign and join the Red Thumb “movement.” Consumers are encouraged to post pictures of their “red thumbs” using the handle #redthumb on social media to demonstrate their support for the campaign. Consumers can also stop by participating Nissan dealerships to pledge not to text and drive as well as win a chance to tailgate and attend the Season 8 finale of The Voice. To date, more than 4,800 have made the pledge in addition to 26,345 mentions of #redthumb on social media. The unique trademark of the campaign, the red thumb, creates a fun, easy, popular way for people to engage with the campaign, making it more likely for them to change their behavior.
- Tap Influencers: Half the battle in achieving behavior change is increasing awareness around benefits of the new desired behavior. Nissan achieves this by collaborating with popular celebrity musician, Adam Levine. By lending his voice to the cause, Levine is able to reach his wide fan base and legitimize the problem. Using a celebrity spokesperson also provides the campaign with unique opportunities to cut through the clutter of other messaging (e.g. promoting the campaign on The Voice finale viewed by over 12 million viewers).
Two key areas where I think the campaign could be strengthened:
- Collaborate with subject matter experts: Nissan has partnered with NBC and The Voice on this initiative to help spread the word about this important cause. However, the campaign would be further strengthened by also partnering with an organization that can contribute expertize in the areas of auto-safety or behavior change, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who leads the “Parents are the Key” teen driving safety campaign. Such a partner would also lend further credibility to Nissan as a leader in the prevention of texting and driving.
- Further differentiate from competitors: Other car brands, such as Toyota’s TeenDrive 365, are also tackling driving safety with a focus on younger drivers. While Nissan is specifically focusing on driver safety related to phone use, the message does not particularly differentiate Nissan from its competitors. While it’s important for Nissan to take a strong stance against unsafe driving practices as a leading car brand, it does not particularly differentiate the brand from its competitors. Identifying a completely unique initiative which other car brands have not addressed would provide Nissan with a more distinctive message through which to connect with its stakeholders.
As we take on 2015, ask yourself, how can you inspire your clients to build strategic cross-sector CSR partnerships that blossom into innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems?