Marketing good deeds: Stories outside the norm

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Teacher Bruce Farrer
Bruce Farrer, a retired teacher stars in this WestJet video. You can click on the image for a news story about the proejct.
Teacher Bruce Farrer
Bruce Farrer, a retired teacher stars in this WestJet video. You can click on the image for a news story about the project.

The concept that if you are seen as doing good deeds, it rubs off on you, and you gain in your own (marketing) reputation, has increasing relevance in a world full of saturated, negative messages.

Some businesses get this stuff right, others flounder — making little things (about themselves) into a big deal; faltering on the hypocrisy and cynicism so easy to experience when you scratch below the surface.

Others, seemingly, can make big things out of little deeds — reversing the rules, you might say.

Consider, for example Canadian Airline WestJet’s publicity campaign. It has created a viral video about its economic support for one of the impoverished resort areas (where it flies). You might smell cynicism here — throw a bit of charity into a “tourist destination” but the genuineness occurs when you learn that the airline has been quietly supporting the community for several years, before publishing the video.

However, the real proof of the model occurs when you view this story about retired teacher Bruce Farrer, who has been completing former students’ assignments for the past several decades. He gave his students a task: Write a letter to themselves. Farrer promised to return the letter in 15, 20  or 25 years (the students could set the time).  He has enough years of letters in his file that he will be continuing the program until he is well into his 80s.

Now this is  a pretty slickly produced docu-video, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a word of WestJet marketing in it. But it evokes memories, reflections, and intergenerational perspectives — and the travelling metaphor presumably can take some people to the space of heading 30,000 feet into the air.

This sort of branding/video production of course can be quite easily justified for a business spending the volume of funds required for an airline’s retail advertising. But what about the AEC community?

I think we can discover and share our own stories, relating probably most effectively to community organizations and institutions where infrastructure correlates with good deeds. Think publicly funded hospitals, schools, and research institutions. Leadership roles in supporting and sharing, in contributing and advocating, will carry plenty of weight in your branding, reputation and ultimately trust.

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