Does the Intent of Corporate Giving Matter?

Braddock, PA, is a real mess, as I learned first-hand from John Fetterman, its larger-than-life mayor, at CUSP 2010. The once thriving steel town has fallen into such despair that it was used as a set for filming Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian “The Road.”

But there’s a glimmer of hope as “new pioneers” settle the town, rebuilding and replanting properties one lot at a time, inching a Sisyphean-sized boulder forward.

Levi’s has latched onto Braddock, using the town in its latest (and strikingly more positive) iteration of its “Go Forth” ads, and contributing $1 million to aid the town’s renaissance. Sounds like a pretty uplifting story, right? Except that Levi’s does virtually all of its manufacturing offshore now, as vocal critics have pointed out.

So, is Levi’s doing the right thing? Or is the company merely trying to polish its image, using Braddock as a cheap sound stage for its commercials. I want to believe the former, but the jeansmaker’s intent certainly deserves scrutiny. (How about moving some of your US-based Filson manufacturing to Braddock, for instance?)

So-called “cause marketing”—like the high-profile Pepsi Refresh campaign—is gaining traction. But marketers who engage in cause marketing need to be genuinely dedicated to that cause with more than just their checkbooks and some back-slapping PR.

The people of Braddock have already been abandoned once. I hope it doesn’t happen again when a new chief marketing officer decides there are better ways for Levi’s to “go forth.” I want to believe otherwise.