UNICEF’s Deal With Cadbury: A Trick, or a Treat?

This is now an entire genre of ethics stories, involving a charity facing criticism for aligning itself with a corporate sponsor whose values seem inconsistent with its own.

Here’s the story, by Carly Weeks, for the Globe and Mail: UNICEF sold out by making deal with Cadbury, medical journal says

One of the world’s most influential medical journals is accusing UNICEF Canada of selling out its values by allowing candy giant Cadbury to use its logo to sell Halloween candy.
In an editorial published online Saturday, the Lancet slammed UNICEF Canada for accepting $500,000 from Cadbury Adams Canada Inc. over a three-year period for construction of schools in Africa in exchange for allowing the company to plaster the iconic – and valuable – UNICEF logo on millions of product packages a year….

Just a few thoughts:

1) It seems to me that the worry expressed in the editorial is really that UNICEF is promoting candy, and candy is unhealthy. I’m no marketing expert, but I strongly suspect that if UNICEF’s tacit endorsement does anything at all, it won’t be to boost anyone’s consumption of candy. Rather, it will be to increase sales of Cabury’s candy relative to other brands.

2) Candy isn’t evil. Eating too much candy, too often, is bad for you. But candy is fun. While obesity trends are not irrelevant, here, I’m not sure we need to demonize candy to such an extent that all association with it is considered toxic.

3) It’s worth thinking carefully about the mutual benefits that come from the UNICEF/Cadbury deal. As the G&M story points out,

“the relationship is…lucrative for corporate sponsors because many consumers look favourably on companies that are aligned with good causes, which can help drive sales.”

But why do consumers look favourably on companies that align themselves with good causes? To spell it out plainly, consumers do so because they think that it is a good thing for companies to contribute socially. So it’s not like there’s any trickery here. If consumers think Cadbury is doing something good, Cadbury will be rewarded.

4) Finally, is it worth it for UNICEF? I’m generally hesitant to hand out advice beyond my expertise. I’m not an experienced fund-raiser. So, far be it from me to tell the experts at UNICEF that the decision to align with a candy company is short-sighted. But it does seem plain to me that a charity only has one real asset: it’s brand, and the trust people place in it. In comparison, a carmaker can lose public trust and then regain it by proving that they really do make a great product. Charities make no product; all the public can judge is behaviour.

Happy hallowe’en, everyone!

10 comments so far

  1. K on

    You’re right – it’d be silly to say that UNICEF is not allowed to associate with candy because candy is evil. My issue would be whether Cadbury in general acts in a way which is consistent with UNICEF’s values. Which it might.

    It’s definitely a marketing win for UNICEF to have their logo carried around in the short-term. But once the two brands are partnered, people will associate the trust they have in UNICEF with Cadbury…and it’s up to Cadbury not to betray that trust.

  2. sheena horgan on

    I agree with all the comments and as a youth & ethical marketer (UK & Ireland) it would seem to me that:
    1. from the consumer perspective – and Cadbury’s marketing objective – consumers may choose Cadbury over other brands because of Unicef and because there is strong evidence to suggest that today’s consumers are more consciencous of, and pre-disposed towards, brands that enact their corporate citizenship.
    2. from Unicef’s side this is clearly about raising much needed funds in a very difficult fundraising climate, and there will also be further Unicef brand recognition and awareness which is again much needed in the face of charity competition and indeed fatigue.

    Partnerships like these can be a win win if approached with mutual respect, integrity and aligned values. And ideally such partnerships should be moderated with an agreed set of guidelines stating both brands’ objective, communication, metrics etc. I should also add that whilst unaware specifically of Cadburys activity in Canada, I do know in the UK & Ireland the company takes its social responsibilities very seriously.

    And I also suspect that there is going to be a steady rise in this type of cause related marketing activity over the coming months.

  3. Steven Mintz aka Ethics Sage on

    The very essence of giving is to want to do a good deed for its own sake and not to expect something in return whether it’s good publicity or a higher volume of sales. Cadbury entered into a quid pro quo arrangement with UNICEF Canada whereby it gave $500,000 in exchange for the use of the UNICEF logo that is well recognized and respected throughout the world. It is an ingenuous marketing maneuver that illustrates an approach to corporate social responsibility that is motivated by the pursuit of one’s own self interests rather than the good of society.

    • Chris MacDonald on

      Steve:

      I don’t see any particular reason why a good deed has to be done only for its own sake. Surely a win-win outcome is a perfectly reasonable objective. But maybe you didn’t mean to exclude that.

      Chris.

      • Toti on

        I would take one step further and say that a win-win objective is not just perfectly reasonable, but also essential to ensure some sort of sustainability to the whole CRM concept.

        Ideally, the win-win element will yield a strong business case that will allow the campaign to continue over time – ensuring a more sustainable funding stream for the organisation concerned. Taking into account the current economic climate, along with the competitive NGO landscape, unless you can create that win-win element I can assure you that very few companies will give…..

        Improving your business while contributing to a social cause benefits all…not just the company concerned. Maybe the question we should be asking is how could Unicef leverage that relationship to maximize the fundraising output – hence, allowing it to reach more people in need? Could the CRM model be revised?

        I understand the ethical questions – but when lives are at stake and money is scarce, we the non-profit community look to the Corporate Sector for innovative – win-win solutions to help us do our business.

        Thanks

  4. Steven Mintz aka Ethics Sage on

    Chris:

    I may be hanging around with ethicists too much but I am concerned about the “good ethics is good business” approach to making decisions. This sounds as though there is a payoff expected as a result of the action. The payoff is to know you have done something right — benefited society in some tangible way — and did not act hoping for a monetary reward. That said, I am a pragmatist and did not want to exclude a win-win outcome as you say. If an organization does a good deed and benefits from it, so much the better. Hopefully, other organizations will follow suit.

    Steve

  5. jilly on

    My knowledge in this area is very limited, but the things I look for when buying chocolate are a reasonable return to farmers, and safeguards against the exploitation of children. It seems to me that Cadbury has something of a track record in both of these areas (see http://www.laborrights.org/stop-child-labor/cocoa-campaign/news/11320
    and http://www.laborrights.org/stop-child-labor/cocoa-campaign/news/11837 ).

    Also, UNICEF appears to have taken this into consideration, as this quote from the article shows:

    “UNICEF has a complex process for approving new corporate partnerships and does not work with companies who use child labour or are engaged in other harmful activities, she said.”

    It is possible that the investment in schools is another step in the same direction. That said, while $500,000 over three years will do a lot, $500,000 per year would do that much more.

    Finally, I have a real question about this statement, also from the article cited:

    “But Cadbury is also misleading consumers by linking purchase of their products to helping children in Africa, according to Amir Attaran, Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global Development.

    Dr. Attaran, who brought the controversial partnership to the Lancet’s attention, highlighted the fact Cadbury doesn’t provide a portion of its sales to UNICEF. Rather, it agreed to provide a fixed figure of $500,000 over three years to UNICEF.”

    This strikes me as the one truly questionable part of Cadbury’s actions, and, while it could be mere carelessness, it is very unfortunate.

    Cheers

  6. arfur on

    I would say charities do produce products, albeit relatively less tangible ones. Unicef can lose public trust through it’s behaviour (“selling out” to a candy company), but it can also regain it by building great products (in this case, schools in Africa) that help end poverty and increase education. So in the end, business and charities are pretty similar when it comes to brand management. The difference is just that charities need to do more work more on communicating their accomplishments because only a small segment of the population is ever truly aware of what they actually do.

  7. Rafaela Fontana on

    I really believe that there is no reason for UNICEF to allow Cadburry to use its logo. Of course Cadburry will give some amount of money to the organization, which will help UNICEF on its objectives. But, in my opinion, this partnership doesn’t have to do with fighting child hunger when you think that a child in extreme hunger cannot be fed with candies. I believe that the partnership is great to Cadburry (it will increase the company’s sales), but it is really bad to UNICEF’s image.

    Rafaela

  8. […] This is not exactly an isolated incident. Charities of all kinds have to decide, on a pretty much constant basis, who they’ll accept money from and who they want to associate with. In some cases, the struggle is an internal one; in other cases, it’s the result of external criticism. (Just look at the criticism UNICEF faced for making a deal with Cadbury.) […]


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