Warning: Long Post
I was basically in non-blogging mode when Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees broke, and by the time I got back in blog-gear, it didn’t seem like the blogosphere needed yet another post reminding people to donate to the Red Cross or another relief charity. So I haven’t blogged anything about Katrina or hurricane relief. Until now.
Late Friday afternoon, a good friend who does marketing for HP (Hewlett-Packard) called me. Her latest project is a charity auction on ebay featuring photographs of about 40 stars that attended the Toronto Film Festival. Sponsored by HP, the auction benefits the American Red Cross and DATA, the not-for-profit started by U2 singer Bono that strives to eliminate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
She had a problem: the project came together so fast that they really didn’t have time to do “traditional” marketing. But if she didn’t get the word out quickly, people wouldn’t know about the auction, which ends on September 29th. She was looking for some marketing help to quickly spread the word, and called me because she knew I was involved in blogging and Internet marketing,
The project was worthwhile and it was a chance to help a friend, so I decided to devote part of my weekend to pulling together a grassroots plan to reach fan sites and blogs. I am getting a small fee for my work, but that’s not the reason I agreed to help. I don’t put anything in my blog that I don’t believe in, fee or no fee. And part of what interested me was to see how fast we could spread the word using ONLY viral methods. No press releases. No ad campaigns. Just some blog posts and a bunch of emails to fan sites and other people that might be interested.
The whole project is also a great example of how a company can responsibly combine philanthropy with their business interests – in this case, promotion of the HP brand and specifically the photo printers. I thought that perhaps some of my marketing colleagues might be interested in it as a case study, especially given some of the silly promotional things that emerged from some companies in the wake of Katrina.
So I divided the project into two sections: outreach to fans, specifically about the pictures, and outreach to fellow marketers, about the auction as both a charity event, and a good case study. This blog entry is of course part of the outreach to fellow marketers. I doubt that I have too many avid Justin Timberlake and Freddy Rodriguez fans in my readership 🙂
The outreach to fan sites and blogs was pretty simple, thanks to Google and blog search engines. I spent a rainy Saturday afternoon searching for and visiting fan sites for everyone from Anthony Hopkins, Pierce Brosnan and Kevin Bacon to Eva Longoria, Anne Hathaway and Maggie Gyllenhaal (the complete list of stars in the auction is at the end of this post). To make my short list, a site or blog had to be active within the last few months, and preferably with a post or entry within the past two weeks. No point in sending an email about a time-sensitive event to an inactive site 🙂
The auction itself is divided into two parts: a small auction of 5 photos that runs until September 22nd and the majority of the photos to be auctioned from September 19-29. So Saturday, I emailed news about the auction to five active sites for the first group of stars. The email itself is very simple, personalized to the star and fan site, and simply lays out the facts about the auction, short and sweet.
To my distinct pleasure, I got a note back almost immediately from one of the sites, Anne Hathaway Place, thanking me for the information and letting me know it had been posted.
Tomorrow, I will do the outreach for the auctions that go live on Monday. And I’ll probably dig around a bit more to see if I can find a few other fan-type places that would be interested.
The auction as a marketing case study
Every year for the past few years, at the Toronto Film Festival (and Sundance), HP and WireImage collaborate to produce “The HP Portrait Studio.” Essentially, all the stars/celebrities who attend the festival, and are of course promoting their films, get their pictures taken by WireImage to extend the reach of the story beyond those media outlets that can afford to send their own photographers. HP participates for corporate branding, and specifically to familiarize the film industry with its products for potential product placements in films. You can see this year’s pictures here.
HP also creates posters of the images and places them around Toronto during the Festival. For example, last year, Starbucks was a Festival sponsor, so HP placed big posters in the Toronto Starbucks windows, making it clear that Starbucks was part of the Festival. My friend told me that people were always asking if the pictures were available for purchase, which planted the seed for the idea of using them for charity.
This year, the time was right.
During the Festival, actress Kate Hudson hosted the onexone gala to benefit DATA and the Lou Adler Foundation, which framed the issue for many of the stars. As a result, about 40 stars agreed to participate in the HP charity event. They autographed pictures taken by photographer Jeff Vespa, who donated his time and the pictures. Each star also autographed a Photosmart 375 Compact printer donated by HP. As discussed above, the autographed photos and printers will be auctioned on ebay, with the proceeds to benefit the American Red Cross and DATA.
Combining charity with product promotion is hard to do well. It often feels forced and artificial. In my opinion, it works here because HP isn’t just linking its brand with the autographed photo, it is actually giving the photo printers away, autographed to boot. The main draw is certainly the photo, but the photo printer actually “goes with” pretty well. I can imagine the winning bidders will be pretty happy to have both items. It would make a pretty cool gift if you had any friends, family, children who were fans of one of the stars.
I also really like the timing of this event. It was planned well before Katrina hit, but it is happening at the point that I would call the first blush of “charitable exhaustion” from the hurricane fallout. You know what I mean – people are very generous in the early days after a tragedy, but as time goes on, those personally unaffected go back to their regular lives. The headlines in the papers start to blur, and the magnitude of the need fades from vision, even though the need has not.
Something like this auction both reminds us, and quite frankly, provides the incentive to keep giving. I’ll use myself as an example. Although we already gave generously to the Red Cross in the days immediately following Katrina, I will donate some of my fee from this project as well.
In the end, it is a win win win for everybody:
- HP, the photographer and the stars feel good about their donation of time and goods, and earn brand credit with their customers and fans;
- The charities get the proceeds of the auction;
- The winning bidders get a cool picture and a cool printer, and can feel good that their purchase helped a good cause.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Robin Wright Penn
Richard E. Grant
the Trust the Man cast: Bart Freundlich, David Duchovny, Eva Mendes, James LeGros, Julianne Moore and Maggie Gyllenhaal
the Edison cast: LL Cool J, Piper Perabo, Dylan McDermott, Justin Timberlake and Morgan Freeman
Footnote: in the fine print of the auction materials on ebay, you’ll see that 85% of the proceeds are guaranteed to go to the charity, with 15% for “posting and processing.” My friend at HP tells me that this is pretty typical – in fact better than typical; the usual range for a charity auction of this nature is between 60-80% to the charity. In the case of the HP auction, HP is paying all the marketing, production and promotional expense; the only things coming out of the proceeds are the logistical costs of the auction itself: the fee for the online auction house, which is capped, and the ebay and PayPal fees. If people pay by check, or the proceeds far exceed the expectations, it is quite possible that the two charities will receive an even greater percentage.