Companies have long put images of celebrities on their products in order to sell more. The idea is that the celebrity has credibility with consumers and that by appearing on a product, the credibility gets transferred to the product. Companies like Procter & Gamble and Pepsi have become masters of “branding”: the art of giving meaning to products.
That’s why I was so amazed and interested to see our friend Kjerstin Erickson, the executive director of FORGE, on a bag of Doritos chips (a Pepsi product):
So here’s my question(s): Is Doritos using Kjerstin to sell chips? Is Kjerstin using Doritos to sell FORGE? Does it matter?
It seems to me that Doritos would never put someone on their bag of chips unless they thought doing so would sell more chips. I find it rather amazing (and wonderful) that Doritos marketing people (some of the top marketing people in the world) believe that associating themselves with the leader of a nonprofit startup can sell more chips.
I’m also impressed with Kjerstin’s savvy ability to leverage the power of Doritos marketing clout to “sell” her organization. As Nathaniel Whittemore points out today, the social sector has generally not been the best at branding:
A brand is about more than the logo. Brand is about how to distill complex concepts into associational chunks, and share with the world in the simplest terms the core of what we care about. Your organization’s brand is its DNA, a combination of description and inspiration that helps people identify your company or nonprofit as a fellow traveler…
The social sector has an incredible story to tell. In some way or form, every organization is imbued with a passion for a more equitable, just world. Every organization has programmed into its core the idea that the world can be a better place, and that problems created by people can also be fixed by people.
We live in a moment where people want that message. We want to believe in ourselves, and moreover, we want to believe in a more complex conception of ourselves. Big box brands and boutique brands aren’t going away, but in a world of such turmoil and instability, brands that make us feel anchored in values and connected to something bigger than ourselves are immensely important, and have the potential to keep the flame of entrepreneurship and justice alive in tough times.
Branding is about spreading an idea. It can be used to sell unhealthy snack food or it can be used to help African refugees. Quality products and services (both for-product and nonprofit) do not sell themselves. We need great products AND great stories is we want to have an impact.
The Kantian deontological part of me cringes to know that Doritos is selling more chips because they’re using Kjerstin and FORGE for a less than benevolent purpose. The John Stuart Mills utilitarian part of me knows that Kjerstin is doing the right thing because she’s trying to sell FORGE and increase impact.
I’m not sure what to really think of all this, but it’s both exciting and frightening.
As a former philosophy major, I appreciate your comment. But in today’s age, i think we need to keep our eye on the prize, which is about the end result – delivering impact. If Doritos and FORGE have found a mutually beneficial way to enhance the value of both brands for positive social change, more power to them…
I get it Tony. This is tough. I think the importance of the branding is that Doritos recognizes that branding themselves as social responsible is important. People want meaning in their lives. If anything this validates Nathaniel’s post from today on branding. Nonprofits have a great story to sell. My guess is that over time a company like Doritos will not be able to compete and win an “endorsement” from a social entrepreneur because there will be brands that are better aligned.
Ben & Jerry’s sells ultra high fat products, but I don’t think as many people would cringe if they saw Kjerstin on the back of a Ben & Jerry’s pint.
From Kjerstin’s point of view, this is a huge win and the smart thing to do. If she were running an anti-obesity nonprofit, this would have a different set of issues. But if having her photo on a bag of Doritos helps her help African refugees, who is anyone to tell her the “brand alignment is bad”?
A congruent example that comes to mind is Frito-Lay’s TrueNorth brand featuring short web commercial/video exposes with pioneer changemakers like Majora Carter. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_yQyjaVK88 .
Like Tony, I’m simply split. And I understand that the failure is not in my stalemated conviction but is rather our current maligned system of capital flows that can’t help but match big dollars with grass roots – no way can we pass judgment on these changemakers that need to sustain the life of their movement by any means necessary: human lives are stake, literally.
Thanks Ross. It is no coincidence that TrueNorth is a Frito-Lay brand, just like Doritos and they are all owned by Pepsi, one of the top branding companies ever.
I agree with your final judgment: Lives are at stake.
FYI: Ross is the web designer and developer behind Tactical Philanthropy.