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The Cause Product That Raised $21 Billion

Posted by James Boyce on 7/5/2011


Shadow

We are all used to the concept of a cause products, something that is sold where a percentage of the sale, hopefully a fairly high one, goes to benefit a charity or cause. Here at Common Sense NMS, we’ve been working on Product (RED) since just after its launch, and we’ve watched in admiration as groups like Live Strong and Susan B. Komen have raised millions for their respective causes. We’re also involved in a project exploring the next generation of cause products and what can be done to take it to the next level.

As we live and work in the cause product world, we have spent some time thinking about what the first cause product was, and since the walls of our office are decorated with old War Bond Posters, we realized that the answer might literally be hanging right there.

From a provincial or purely American point of view, World War I was where War Bonds were launched in what we would describe as a cause product – with truly staggering success. Why would we describe them as the first cause products? Well, savings bond were an existing well known product; a special version of saving bonds were created with a specific goal – ie to fund the war, and perhaps most importantly, the product was marketed in a way we would look at now as a cause product campaign.

Much like Product (RED) used celebrities to launch its brand, World War I war bond campaigns were headed up by some of the top celebrities of the day, like Al Jolson and Charlie Chaplin. Famous artists were commissioned to design the posters; some of which still hang on walls like ours. The bonds were renamed “Liberty Bonds” so they were distinct from ordinary savings bonds.

So how did it work? Amazingly well. At a time when the total federal expenditures were approximately one billion dollars annually, the Liberty Bond Campaign raised over $21 billion. (Imagine if today we raised over $20 trillion dollars through a bond campaign.)

Within the efforts from all those decades ago, some lessons still hold true. Celebrities certainly do still work in terms of gathering publicity and attention. Strong branding and strong communications make a lot of difference in your success. And ultimately, people have to desire what you are selling. And back in 1917 and 1918, they most certainly did.

Stay tuned as we work through a new concept that will, we hope, make some pretty good history itself.

Shadow

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