THE BLOG
05/21/2013 09:42 am ET Updated Jul 20, 2013

The 10 Most Generous Marketing Geniuses

Instead of just selling us more useless things, these advertisers and marketers are helping to package and make popular the idea of doing good and responsible business.

This past fall, a group of marketers, led by the 92nd Street Y and the UN Foundation, created the first annual day of giving: Giving Tuesday. No single person owned the day and more than 2,500 corporations, non-profits, small businesses and consultancies participated to celebrate helping others. What launched as a small grassroots effort soon took on a life of its own and is now poised to grow far beyond U.S. borders.

Every day, we are seeing more and more innovative organizations and companies forming to help give back and marketers are using their skills to drive social change, change behaviors and raise awareness. Enlightened companies are no longer reticent to frame their corporate responsibility as part of their core mission, delivered to customers via products and marketing channels. Additionally, they are not shy to say it is beneficial for their business. A recent study by the Marketing Science Institute revealed that investing in socially responsible causes not only creates goodwill towards a company but also bolsters consumer perceptions of the performance of company products. In other words, doing good can actually translate into doing well.

It's easy for me to say that giving and social good have gone mainstream. In my life, it has. I work at Fenton, a communications agency that has been dedicated to social good since its inception in 1982. Outside of work, I sit on several nonprofit boards and advise multiple others. My romantic partner Fabien, the first grandson of Jacques Cousteau, has dedicated his life to educating others about the importance of our water world and environment. Both my parents were stewards of good, as my father was a professor for more than 35 years and my mother toiled for public television.

But it's not just me. Giving is truly becoming the new "getting." At what other time have we seen the New York Times Magazine dedicate six pages to a professor who prides himself on sharing his time to help others?

The trend includes both global names such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nike and Toyota as well as smaller, cutting-edge stalwarts like Warby Parker, Panera Bread and Runa Tea. Panera Bread, for example, recently opened several Panera Cares Cafes at which customers pay according to their financial means. Profits from the ventures will be used to fund job-training programs to help elevate the disadvantaged in the area.

These companies are finding new and innovative ways to connect with their core customers and prospects--and using social good as the means of connection. In an era when listening and interacting trumps old school broadcast messaging, social tools allow companies to be authentic and transparent, and to form a 360-degree relationship with their customers.

Further, businesses are committing to longer social good programs. Given the need to partner with customers for success, a longer trajectory gives a campaign or program more time to grow and prosper. Since 2006, Bono and Bobby Shriver have been engaging private sector companies to create a licensed product with the (RED) Product logo with the purpose of raising awareness and funds to fight AIDS in Africa. More recently, when Warner Bros. wanted to fund famine victims in the Horn of Africa, its "We Can Be Heroes" program was launched as a two-year project rather than a limited one-off promotion.

One thing is clear: the social good and marketing worlds are intersecting in a powerful way. Brands, nonprofits, and social businesses have an incredible opportunity to tap into the public's increasingly visible affinity for social good and transparency. In the pages that follow, you'll meet some of the spectacular marketers and communicators who are doing just that.

Every Monday and Wednesday over the next five weeks, read about a new honoree who is using his or her creative smarts to effect positive change. We've gathered in-depth profiles that get to the heart of who these visionaries are and how they are using their time and talents for good.

Keep Reading to Meet the Top 10>>