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Selling Inspiration

It seems that today’s corporate landscape is increasingly embracing its sense of social obligation. Whether supporting the fight against deforestation or revitalizing a small, once-thriving steel town, tapping into the human emotion no doubt reinforces the integrity of a brand.
Levi Strauss spent millions planting itself firmly in the American landscape, right there with apple pie and old Chevrolets. Having gone one step further the past year, Levi Strauss engaged consumers in its “Go Forth” campaign about rolling up their sleeves and identifying with the residents of Braddock, Pennsylvania. The approach was to relay the message that real change only comes with real hard work.

There is nothing inspirational about a pair of jeans, but Levi’s is hoping that its involvement in a community revitalization project in the small town inspires you to purchase those famously perfectly fitting pair of jeans, as a way of saying “thank you.”

Levi’s was smart in choosing Braddock, which embodies the very essence of Americana. A former steel town, it paints a dismal picture of the backbone of the blue-collar worker and creates a great canvas to work with. By leading the campaign and joining forces with other organizations along the way, they sought to tap into the feelings associated with the accomplishments of good old hard work.

Community residents were photographed in town sharing their stories while clothed in Levi Strauss apparel, relaying that getting down to work requires quality, durable clothing.

Many have come to criticize their efforts as a relationship built simply upon a marketing campaign to inspire sales only. The question was raised that perhaps Braddock would have been better served if Levi’s built a manufacturing plant there that could supply jobs. The people of Braddock didn’t seem to complain and welcomed the efforts – maybe Levi Strauss helped spark a town that just needed a lift.

Similarly, Starbucks has contributed $126 million to communities in cash and in-kind donations and has supported nearly 1.5 million volunteer hours. Since 1974, McDonald’s has been the support of the Ronald McDonald House, providing the necessary means through employee and community volunteer services and donations. Ben & Jerry’s has maintained continued efforts to fight global warming, among other social missions.

To be a company or an organization that inspires it must come from within, and it must have a sense of transparency that fosters an organic relationship. So the question remains, is there a line in the sand when it comes to companies involving their social aspiration or moral vision to increase brand awareness? Does Levi Strauss succeed in branding itself as a brand with an effort to change the landscape of America, one town at a time (or one pair of pants at a time)? I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.

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