Celebrity endorsements have been big for a while now. Katie Price forged a career out of bran Jordan, and no self-respectless, profit driven, public figure is without some kind of merchandising in their own name or adorned with their face, often at over inflated prices and often irrespective of quality, but there´s a new wave of socially responsible marketing that is starting to spread through society, where charities benefit from their sales.
It is not a unique phenomenon that businesses are supportive or exclusively representing of charitable missions, the RED organisation was created in 2006 by Bono and Bobby Shriver, with the sole aim of raising funds for HIV and AIDS eradication, predominantly in Africa. Pop stars giving their time and skills to raise money for charities is one thing, as in the famous Band Aid concert, but RED was set up specifically as a platform for companies to collaborate under a globally recognised set of principles and raise money at the same time.
RED products are easily recognisable to those in the know, and the branding of RED is predominant over all other collaborator identities, and there are some prominent companies involved, from Apple, Bank of America, Starbucks, The Coca-Cola Company and Beats by Dr. Dre.
Headphone manufacturer Beats Electronics, who marketed their products under the “by Dr. Dre” name, and their streaming music service, Beats Music, were in the headlines recently on account of Apple buying out the companies to the tune of 3 billion dollars. Dr. Dre himself later releasing his first rap album in 16 years through Apple music.
It´s clear that there is a lot of money at stake in the headphone and music streaming service and both Apple and Beats are listed as supporters of RED, but it´s also clear that even with their support a 3 billion dollar price tag means there must be considerable profit in the whole idea.
That is where Lstn is hoping now to make a difference. So far, they are largely unheard of, as they are a new company, a “start-up” in fact, with little budget for marketing, but they hope to move into this saturated market and make a difference, and the way they hope to do this is by being different.
In addition to their obvious electronic components that make them work, Lstn headphones feature real wood panels to add an air of class to their product, with a discreet engraved Lstn logo on each ear. The most unique part of the product is not in the physical characteristics however, it is that for every product purchased, contributes to a fund to provide a hearing aid for somebody who can´t afford the most essential piece of audio receiving devices.
Founder Bridget Hilton was inspired by other social entrepreneurs like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker, who sell one pair and give another away. Hilton started the company with a $10,000 loan from a friend and travelled to China to learn firsthand how the manufacturing process works.
Hilton intended to use the Kickstarter project to raise funds, but the application was denied because the crowdfunding platform doesn’t support charitable causes.
She set about creating a website and was spotted by American TV show the Today Show, which gave her product an immediate boost and led to sales immediately. The only problem being that they had no product to sell, that problem was quickly overcome.
Hilton says she’s used to the criticism that social enterprise is just a marketing ploy itself. But she insists that’s not the case. Running a business this way makes everything much tougher. The company works with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which is its own charity independent of Lstn and its brand.
They are currently America based, but may well spread around the globe soon, so check out their website, lstnsound.co.
Meanwhile, we will have wait and see if this is the end of the celebrity endorsement and the birth of one far more useful and socially responsible, unless of course our celebs sit back as board members of the charities supported and reap the benefits without even the slightest of efforts.