As a Comic Relief fan, I look forward to my regular emails from the charity, letting me know what my fave comdedians are up to and where I can watch them on the telly. The charity’s ‘do something funny for money’ concept is still going strong after 25 years. And for good cause – it’s a winning formula of doing good through light entertainment. 

But as Comic Relief always points out, this isn’t about pure entertainment – their work is serious, life-changing business. This is about relieving poverty, isolation and disadvantage at home and abroad.

The Red Nose Day telethons stick to a clear format of fun entertainment plus serious videos. So, I know I’ll enjoy a laugh, have a cry and make a donation.  I always do.

I also know that Comic Relief comes with big corporate backing.  Brands such as Sainsbury’s and BT are now almost synonymous with Comic Relief and the charity readily acknowledges that they couldn’t run the whole show with the support of business.

In short, I know what to expect with Comic Relief and they always deliver. That’s why it’s one of my favourite examples of best practice cause-related marketing.

A bit of a bummer

By contrast, I was very disappointed with Velvet toilet tissues’ sponsorship of Chris Packham’s ‘Wild Night Out’ last week. Why? Because they went about their communications wrongly.

We booked tickets on the basis that we’d get “Chris Packham goes wild with an entertaining and informative look at some of nature’s most popular and interesting species”. It was billed to be “a hugely rewarding evening’s entertainment”.

That’s exactly what we expected, and what you get from Chris on TV and on twitter. Although perhaps we should have heeded a tweet from him saying he may turn up in a tie! Was he hinting at the corporate involvement in his show?  There was zero mention of Velvet pre-show.

His talk was definitely ‘entertaining’ but it wasn’t the ‘entertainment’ we were expecting. The videos of Chris in Brazil overseeing Velvet’s tree planting were decidedly shoe-horned in and out of place and seemed to leave both Chris and the audience feeling uncomfortable.

Why? Because the Velvet connection came out of the blue. Nobody told us to expect serious corporate videos as part of the evening’s entertainment.  In fact, we felt cheated of our money – having unwittingly paid to listen to a corporate lecture.  It was only afterwards that I noticed Velvet’s sponsorship of the tour – it was on the back of the leaflet I picked up at the theatre.

Communicating CSR

Don’t get me wrong, what Velvet is doing in Brazil is admirable. And getting Chris Packham to endorse it gives great credibility. But for me, all that good work was undone by poor communications.

It’s no good sneakily slipping in corporate responsibility messages. You have to be clear about it from the off. Velvet and Chris should have said this was going to be included. And allowed him some toilet humour!

Also, I would have shown the videos either side of the interval. That way, anyone who didn’t want to get serious could sit in the bar and just tune in for the entertainment. Afterall, when the going gets heavy on Comic Relief, no-one minds you flicking channels.

So much good work gets overlooked because of a lack of strategy and investment in communicating CR. It makes all the difference. That’s why Comic Relief, Sainsbury’s and BT have enjoyed ‘many happy returns’. 

Ideal tip: successful cause-related marketing means setting the right expectations and then living up to (or preferably exceeding) them. 

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