When it comes to the intersection of brands and charity, I’m as sceptical as they come.
A brand is a business, motivated purely by profit and a desire to respond to market forces. A charity should be selfless – rising above all that for the greater good of making an ethical impact in the world. Yes, charities are accountable to their trustees in the same way companies are accountable to their board members, but the distinction should mean something intrinsic and essential. So when brands use charities in their marketing efforts to align with a certain idea or resonate with a particular audience, my brain kicks in and goes nope. Make no mistake; if slaughtering kittens live on TV sold burgers and fries, McDonald’s would open an abattoir.
I have worked for several charities and found them consistently intolerable places full of the worst types of people. I refer to the pen-pushers and management staff, not the “front line”/ “grassroots” (whatever the terminology) heroes who are actually making a real difference to the world, sometimes at the cost of great personal sacrifice and a real uphill struggle. With this addendum in mind, I expected myself to dislike the Vodafone Big Poppy Run. I expected to surmise it as another corporate status grab; a huge powerful corporation trading support for positive sentiment. But I found myself pleasantly surprised.
The idea here is that ex-Royal Marine Ben McBean (a simply inspirational figure and brilliant role model) is challenged to run 31 miles around London, tracing the perimeter of the World’s Biggest Poppy. In the lead up to Remembrance Sunday on the 9th of November, other runners and supporters were encouraged to ‘colour in’ all the roads on the interior, using an app to track their route. Roads would fill up with red and black as more runners took to the streets to take part.
It’s a great idea on account of three reasons. 1) McBean is a courageous character and one which we’d all love to rally behind. As a focal figure he humanises the campaign and gives it a likeable face. 2) We all want to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. No single individual can colour in more than a fraction of London, but together they can create something special. 3) Vodafone offered to match all donations to the Royal British Legion (up to £100,000) over the course of the campaign. This was of course very wise, and turned it into a clever digital charity fundraiser.
The results speak for themselves – 635 runners took part, covering almost 8,000 miles and raising £15,000 for the Royal British Legion. The feedback on social media was very positive; Ros Wilks writes ‘Well done all London runners! Keep it up!’ while Steffanie Ford says ‘Hopefully contributed with my 7 miles today. Ben is a great inspiration.’ I was planning on ending this piece with a few negative comments from twitter to balance it out, but since a second look reveals they all came from professional internet trolls, I won’t. Fuck those haters. You try running 31 miles after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan. I hope you’re reading this Ben, and I hope you realise what a god damn inspiration you are to fat lazy copywriters like me.
Show your support for Ben. Donate now. Just text: POPP58 £5 to 70070 or visit
here. The Vodafone Foundation will match all donations up to £100,000.