It all seems so simple and worthy too - a product climbs on the back of another and the revenue raised from selling the space on the 'carrier' brand goes to a good cause.
Companies hunting for an innovative method of pitching their products now have a new weapon - and, unusually, it involves charity. Called 'HelpAd', the concept was launched in July by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world's largest aid group.
The scheme is simple enough. HelpAd - a Red Cross subsidiary - marries two complementary products so that one company advertises its wares on the packaging of the other. The revenue raised from selling the space on the 'carrier' brand - which will have been negotiated at market rates - then goes to HelpAd. So, for example, a loaf of bread may carry a promotion for a brand of butter.
The HelpAd philosophy is designed to address a number of issues. On one side there is charity fatigue and the claimed drain on donations since the start of the National Lottery. On the other, there is clear evidence that the consumer prefers and buys products that are tied to good causes. The scheme hinges on allowing companies to benefit from what Bob Doyle, HelpAd's managing director, calls the 'halo effect'. In the process it seeks to capture 1% of the global marketing spend - a cool £5 billion - for the Red Cross.
The response, according to Doyle, has been 'phenomenal'. Companies such as Virgin, American Express, SmithKline Beecham and News International have shown definite interest, while HelpAd is also currently talking to around a dozen or more. If all goes to plan the first HelpAd products will be on the shelves by February.
SmithKline Beecham sees the scheme as applicable to all the products it sells. Advertising director John Blakemore says he will be spending only a fraction of his budget on HelpAd. Even so, he expects his cash to work hard, if not harder, than if it was spent on more conventional advertising. He emphasises that the scheme's success will depend largely on an effective awareness campaign that educates consumers to recognise the HelpAd symbol on packaging.
American Express, with a UK marketing budget of £15 million, has a long history of cause-related marketing. It has used its cards to raise donations for the refurbishment of the Statue of Liberty and to give money to the hungry.
Sally Sussman, the company's European vice-president of public affairs, says Amex cards will probably carry a partner's ads. 'It is appealing for us because top brands like to work with other top brands. There's synergy in that,' she says. Ashley Stockwell, design and product development manager at Virgin Cola, welcomes any development which would give his product an edge in a highly-competitive market. The scheme will not, he says, affect Virgin Cola's limited marketing budget. But it will tell the consumer that Virgin and its partner product - probably a youth pro-duct such as Nike - are helping the Red Cross. 'Our gut feeling is that it will go down well with the public,' he says. 'But it doesn't matter whether the public will look at it or not. It costs them no additional money.' But the fact that people see the ads and perceive the connection with Red Cross is vital to the scheme. To this end, HelpAd, with a global advertising budget of £50 million, has brought in agency Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson as an adviser. According to research by the agency in Europe and the US, eight out of 10 people claim they will be more inclined to buy a product if it is linked to a cause. There has already been a tongue-in-cheek press campaign aimed at the advertising and marketing industries. The ad features photographs of products which bear labels given over entirely to the name of the partner's brand.
The reality may be somewhat different. In the case of Virgin Cola, for example, lack of space on the can may mean the ad is only the same size as the current bar code. Much also depends on convincing consumers that they are contributing to a good cause, even though it is advertisers, and not they, that are actually handing over the money.