POWERING CHANGE: Buying CBS ads though EcoMedia lets companies fund community projects like this solar panel installation. (Photo: ecomedia.cbs.com)
Last year, U.S. advertisers spent about $60 billion in television and approximately $30 billion online. Such splurges on fleeting, intangible brand messaging leave a lot of room for waste.
But what if brands could use ads to fund sustainable energy infrastructure, better educational resources, new jobs for the unemployed, and savings for taxpayers? And what if they did so without using any money beyond their usual marketing budget?
EcoMedia, a CBS company, found a way to do just that with their truly groundbreaking model for modern advertising — literally; their ads spur reforestation projects and the planting of gardens, after all.
The concept is simple: When a brand wants to buy ad space for CBS network television, local affiliate stations, radio stations, or digital platforms, they can do so through EcoMedia and have part of that money allocated to community projects in the regions in which the ad is served. Every one of these ads contains a special watermark to show viewers that the brand spent wisely, and additional promotions then raise awareness for the meaning of these watermarks.
Through EcoMedia’s programs — EcoAd, WellnessAd and EducationAd — brands can support initiatives in the realm of environment, health or education. And with money coming from colossal clients like Chevrolet, Toyota and AT&T among others, those initiatives lead to big results.
While numerous outlets offer brands ways to sponsor causes, EcoMedia is unique in its ability to play an integral role in the guidance and implementation of projects for their community partners. Their intricate third party verification system also ensures that the projects they support yield quantifiable benefits.
In short, EcoMedia facilitates life-changing projects while simultaneously helping brands to multiply the efficiency of their marketing budgets — a win-win if there ever was one. If more entities begin adopting this exact model (as responsibly as EcoMedia, that is), the media marketplace could certainly see a diversification of offerings. Just look at the recent consumer movements that prompted companies to voluntarily add social value to products to capitalize on increasingly thoughtful and informed shoppers. Could this same socially conscious cohort transform billions of advertising dollars into unprecedented opportunity?
I was fortunate enough to hear EcoMedia President and Founder Paul Polizzotto speak at New York's Green Festival kick-off event this spring, and now, I've asked him to elaborate on his organization's unique value proposition in the interview below. Share it. Tweet it. Show your fellow green business proponents what everyday advertisements can become.
MNN: What value does EcoMedia's model provide both clients and communities? How do these benefits differ from those of direct CSR donations to community projects?
Polizzotto: On the advertising side, our one-of-a-kind model brings increased value to our clients, giving them the unique opportunity to use their advertising dollars — money that would be spent anyway — to help meet some of our country's most pressing environmental, wellness and education challenges. Simply by choosing the EcoAd, WellnessAd or EducationAd programs, advertisers make a meaningful, tangible contribution in local communities where their consumers live and work.
Our programs also allow corporations to target specific markets through the bricks-and-mortar projects they fund. And the projects themselves create a lasting legacy for our advertisers — a long-term, concrete connection with consumers that isn't a feature of traditional advertising.
Communities that benefit from our ad programs see job creation and taxpayer savings in addition to the realization of vital projects that simply wouldn't have happened without the critical gap funding that our advertisers provide. Some of these projects include installing solar panels on schools and community centers, creating lighting and energy efficiency retrofits for low-income housing, planting organic gardens, providing school supplies, awarding scholarships, building fitness zones and giving nutritious meals to school children. We offer a classic win-win ... if we do say so ourselves.
Do EcoMedia ads pull funds from a client's corporate social responsibility (CSR) budget, or are these donations part of marketing expenses — dollars that would have otherwise been allocated to non-philanthropic ad buys?
The latter; we do not receive donations. Our programs are funded by our clients' advertising budgets, which means that, with one media buy, corporations can meet many of their multi-silo objectives in the areas of marketing, environmental affairs, government affairs, community relations, social responsibility and public relations.
This, too, makes our model unique. In offering our clients more value for the dollars they already spend — and using those dollars to support important projects and programs nationwide — we've created a media model that is truly sustainable. We're very proud that our work is a real-world example of the sustainability ideals we promote.
What challenges have you faced in attracting and keeping high-profile clients to participate in your ad model?
It's not a question of keeping accounts; our clients are so happy with the results they see from our ad programs that they tend to become repeat customers. The challenge we've faced is getting the word out. But when you're creating something truly new and innovative, that comes with the territory.
Have you encountered potential clients who want to use EcoMedia program logos on their commercials while their overall business model doesn't demonstrate a solid commitment to social issues?
First of all, it's important to note that EcoMedia's advertising programs are not certification programs, nor are the EcoAd, WellnessAd or EducationAd logos seals of approval. EcoMedia does not in any way certify, endorse or make any representations about EcoMedia program advertisers, their products or services. Our mission is to fund critically needed environmental, wellness and education projects in communities all across the country. So, we're not out to change or enhance the image of our advertisers; our goal is to redirect funds that would otherwise be used solely for advertising into community projects that make a positive and meaningful difference in people’s lives.
Frankly, if participation in our ad programs is the first socially responsible action an advertiser takes, we're gratified. That means our model's working; it's attracting clients who might not otherwise contribute to local communities in such positive ways. It's our hope that once advertisers benefit from our programs' many and unique offerings, they'll continue to find new ways to green their supply chains and to give back.
Which accomplishments of EcoAd, WellnessAd and EducationAd are you most proud of?
We're exceptionally proud of every tree and organic garden we've helped to plant, and every solar panel and lighting retrofit we've helped to install, but we're most proud of the network of relationships we've built with many of the nation's leading non-profit organizations. Our non-profit partners work with us to identify and manage the projects our advertisers support. We literally couldn't do what we do without them.
Our nonprofit partners include the Starlight Foundation, the Children's Health Fund, Trust for Public Lands, Kids in Need Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Little Kids Rock, Fisher House, Volunteers of America, Junior Achievement, Enterprise Community Partners, National Association of Counties, Waterkeeper Alliance, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Forest Stewardship Council, Association of Science-Technology Centers and Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP).
What sorts of precedents do you believe EcoMedia can set for the advertising industry as a whole?
It may sound bold, but we believe that the EcoMedia model has the power to transform the industry landscape. Already, our programs are changing the traditional advertising paradigm — a one-way monologue from advertiser to consumer — into a two-way dialogue. Through our ad programs, consumers are beginning to understand that advertising can create tangible, meaningful improvements in their communities.
Ultimately, we hope consumers will come to expect and demand these kinds of benefits from all the advertising they watch, hear and read. We hope they'll ask of every ad, "How does this improve the quality of my life?" Then the bar will be raised for the advertising industry as a whole. It will no longer be enough for advertising to inform and entertain; it'll have to do something more.
The opinions expressed by MNN Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of MNN.com. While we have reviewed their content to make sure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, MNN is not responsible for the accuracy of any of their information.