When Indulgences Do Good
The next time you make a luxury purchase, you may very well be supporting a beneficial cause.
Nancy Hubbell has a very interesting—and very contemporary job title: She’s the “lifestyle philanthropy manager” for luxury automaker Lexus. “We discovered that so many Lexus owners were involved in their communities and involved in charities,” she says. So her company developed a programme that supports projects helping children.
And Lexus is hardly alone. Luxury-goods makers’ philanthropic efforts are now taking many forms. For some companies, there are cause-themed products from which a share of profits goes to charity. For some there are projects that align with and reinforce their brand identities. Yet others distribute money to organisations and projects which may or may not have obvious tie-ins to their businesses. And a few, such as Lexus, go so far as to create their own in-house philanthropic units.
Let’s take a look at some of the efforts by other companies—and what drives them.
Abercrombie & Kent
Sometimes a company’s benevolent efforts clearly enhance the brand. The custom travel firm supports conservation and community development in locations where they run tours.
The clothier helps fund Terra Madre—the organic-agriculture expo allied with the Slow Food movement—but focuses on supporting natural fibre producers who presumably could become suppliers.
Some efforts are carefully focused in scope. Louis Vuitton has been a benefactor of Orphan Aid Africa. The company generated funds for their support from fans promoted by Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, a champion of that charity. The fans were sold only in Spain, where Vuitton could certainly expect them to generate good will.
Least common are the luxury brands that create philanthropic programmes all their own, and even organisational structures to run them. Sometimes these efforts tie in to the company’s products, sometimes not. The leather goods maker produces an annual collection showcasing work by promising young shoe designers; the designers get recognition, the company sells shoes. But Furla also established the Premio Furla, which honours and supports young Italian contemporary artists, an initiative with no direct impact on profits.
Lexus’ efforts on behalf of children, under the banner “Lexus Pursuit of Potential,” employ multiple organisational models at once. Lexus sponsors benefit golf tournaments and, until the economic downturn, matched its dealers’ contributions to local charities. As part of its sponsorship of a recent tour by singer Alicia Keys, it made cash awards to several schools in support of their environmental programmes. And the Lexus Eco Challenge competition encourages students to create and implement environmental programmes in their communities; the idea and $1 million in funding came from the company, and the publisher Scholastic administers the programme.
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts supports an admirable cause: finding a cure for cancer. The Terry Fox charity runs, named for a heroic young Canadian, have for several decades not only raised important funds for cancer research but quite literally have mobilised whole communities across the world to participate. Shortly before Fox’s death in 1981, Four Seasons CEO Isadore Sharp wrote this to him: “You started it. We will not rest until your dream to find a cure for cancer is realised.” Nor have individual hotels rested, as each one around the world continues to help organise an annual run in its community.
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise originated with a product tie-in—to mark the 50th anniversary of the Oyster waterproof watch, in 1976—but the programme has long since been uncoupled from direct reference to what the company sells. Moreover, it is entirely operated through an in-house organisational structure. Reminiscent of the MacArthur “genius” grants, every second year Rolex gives cash awards of $100,000 to five laureates and $50,000 to five associate laureates in science and medicine, technology and innovation, exploration and discovery, the environment, and cultural heritage.