Ford’s People Fleet: What integrating purpose and profit can buy you

Starting September 13, Ford will be loaning 12 Ford Fiestas to 12 non-profits. Called the People Fleet project, its aim is to help the organizations save money and do their work. To apply organizations submit their mission statements and must perform services in the Health, Food & Shelter, Arts & Culture, Education, Environment and Transportation or Human Rights fields. If they win, they receive a Ford Fiesta, gas card and flip camera. What Ford gets is equally powerful.

At the Cannes Advertising Festival this year I stated that the future of profit is purpose and this initiative by Ford is the perfect example. An extension of its already enormously successful Ford Fiesta social media campaign, the People’s Fleet again enlists storytellers to ride around with the organizations and promote the great work that they are doing. The halo effect on the brand (and in this case the new Ford Fiesta) is obvious, but let’s break down the broader benefits of marrying profit and purpose in this way.

1. HR: Employees that know what a brand stands for and that see it doing meaningful work are happier. That improves employee retention and saves staffing costs. In short, employees grow to think its cool to work at Ford.

2. CSR: Brands that invest in social change not only make the world a better place but they create a healthier business environment in which to operate. After all, brands cannot succeed in failing societies.

3. PR: Brands can not only publicize the good work they are doing but they invariably receive a lot of free PR and this sets them apart from their competitors.

4. Social Currency: By doing meaningful work for others, brands can become relevant, likable and sharable in online communities. And the sooner they do that, the larger their communities can become over time.

What Ford is doing is a great test case for a permanent nationwide campaign to support non-profits (hint, hint, Ford) and a wake up call to other brands and the advertising industry that purpose should be embraced as smart marketing because is meaningful and persuasive to brand communities. What’s more these isolated marketing initiatives are the inspiration for an entirely new way of doing business that can ultimately build a more sustainable world that is also profitable for brands.

(BTW: This is not a sponsored post. Never do them. Never will. Don’t believe in them. Brands doing social good, though. That I believe in.)

What do you think of what Ford is doing? Do you believe that brands genuinely care or just use causes to help their marketing?