Advertising Agencies Go Good

Ad Age‘s new series called GoodWorks reports on the cause marketing efforts of advertising shops. It’s an important signal. For years, many talented advertising executives urged their clients to invest relatively small amounts (compared to a big media buy, that is) into good will projects.

For a while the strategy was called “strategic philanthropy,” which many battle-hardened marketers considered an oxymoron. After all, it’s a transaction based on so many intangibles–giving away money, for starters! It was hard to convince most clients that corporate generosity had any kind of business premise. Even if the reciprocity it inspired generated millions in sales, as Target, Kenneth Cole and Yoplait can attest.

Today, the tactic of making a difference and earning your halo has had a makeover. It’s now dubbed “Social Responsibility.” And the Internet has lowered the barrier to entry, making possible a Long Tail economy of goodness with many more players enjoying little wins.

The significance of dedicated coverage by Ad Age to social responsibility signals a groundswell. Advertising agencies, which are sometimes accused of housing some of the most cynical, arrogant people in business, are undertaking cause-related campaigns themselves. Walking their talk. Big firms like Leo Burnett have long been active in community good will projects. And they deserve more credit for it. But given the Internet culture of micro celebrity, smaller and mid-sized agencies can roll up their sleeves and plunge into a world full of problems, picking them off one cause at a time.

What these creatives will learn, no doubt, is that cause marketing is time consuming and demands ethical standards. But they’ll also experience the rewards. And rather than being white board wonks about philosophy of cause marketing, cultural sponsorship, or strategic philanthropy, they’ll be experienced advocates. They are sponsoring the world they want to see.

And THAT is good work.