One of the biggest risks of getting your brand involved in a current event, social movement, or charitable cause is that you will come off as utterly tasteless or completely tacky. A brand trying to insert itself into something can appear to be piggy-backing on a serious issue that deserves more reverence, using a subject of deep import as background decoration for its own advertising purposes. For the bitterest example of this, just check out what brands like to tweet on the anniversary of 9/11.
So how does a brand get over this pitfall? Simple: By putting its money where its mouth is. A great example of this is what Snapchat is doing in honor of today being World AIDS Day. Via Stan Schroeder of Mashable, the social media company is partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to donate up to $3 million dollars to (RED), a licensed brand that helps the private sector raise awareness and funds to battle AIDS in Africa.
The process works like this: Use one of three special World AIDS Day geofilters in a Snapchat post today, and the foundation will donate $3, up to $3 million. This, without the context of actual monetary donations, would be tacky as hell, a few steps below the slacktivism of putting a filter on your Facebook profile after a tragedy and calling it a day. But three dollars to fight AIDS is three bucks a charity didn't have before. Any amount helps, and $3 million can help a lot.
Additionally, the Gates Foundation will donate an additional $1 million if the video above is shared at least 330,000 times. So get to it.
Schroeder notes how (RED) had previously partnered with Apple for a series of branded apps that, when purchased, had the proceeds go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. Again, the only thing that saves a lot of this from being awful is that actual money is being raised for a good cause.
And that's the point. If a big part of branding is getting your audience to identify and associate your brand with positive values, you can't just make empty gestures towards those values. You have to put up or shut up. Yes this all is just a big promotion, getting people not just using Snapchat more, but also thinking of Snapchat as charitable and helpful, but guess what, they are actually being charitable and helpful, albeit in a roundabout, cross-promotional, synergistic way. But guess what? I don't care.
All the patriotic tweets in the world are nothing in comparison to actually doing something that will help people, whether its fighting AIDS, raising money to care for veterans, or any of the million other things a brand can do to leverage its image for actual, tangible charity. If you want your brand to be thought of positively, you need to actually mean it, and you need to actually do something about it.