Rhode Island politics are certainly colorful. While some surveys suggest the state has cleaned up its act after enduring a reputation of corruption for decades, the state’s politicians certainly hold their own with their counterparts in Illinois, New Jersey and Florida.
Now the latest flack in the country’s smallest state is over two-time Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci’s pasta sauce. Cianci touts his pasta sauce, and charity’s work, as reason enough to run for mayor of Providence again this year — even though his two previous administrations ended with resignations after felony convictions. Never mind that he first quit after pleading guilty to assault and then again years later after he was charged for 27 crimes, including racketeering. So selling jars of pasta sauce, which purport to fund scholarships, would be a sweet way to atone for past sins, correct?
Well not quite: It turns out the Associated Press investigated the mayor’s claims, and found that from 2009 to 2012, the pasta sauce made a profit of $3.
Ever the politician, Cianci passes the blame around. His longtime advisor, Charles Mansolillo, pointed the finger at distributors, which he claims were either poorly managed or went bankrupt. The 20-year-old product also had its rough moments, including Cianci’s five-year prison sentence last decade, when the jars rarely made it to store shelves. Cianci and his aides also claim the company responsible for manufacturing the sauce cuts into the profits (curiously enough, the company manufacturing the pasta sauce doesn’t mention this product). And in the end, the former mayor explained the pasta sauce only complements other fundraising activities, such as a golf tournament, that pays for most of the 10 or so $1,000 scholarships given out to high school seniors annually.
Excuses aside, the labels say the jars of sauce are “Benefitting Providence School Children,” and are of course pitched in stores and online in kind. It’s a simple marketing lesson: A customer is going to buy a product because he or she thinks there is an altruistic benefit, not because it will “complement” and help brand a campaign. Additionally, Cianci’s defensive tone comes across as more political double-speak.
And therein you have another problematic cause marketing campaign. With countless products promising to solve everything from poverty to environmental problems, consumers need to know how sales of a product genuinely work — and where the funds exactly go. Such disclosure is one reason why Newman’s Own has succeeded for over 30 years: Of course, Paul Newman’s charity donates all after-tax profits to charity. And as Alley Watch writer Savannah Marie points out, authenticity also goes a long way: Campaigns that appear to be self-serving and focused on branding risk careening towards failure. Backtracking and excuses, which is what Cianci and his allies have been giving to anyone who listens, will guarantee even the most well-meaning campaign can flop. If you want to do good, be up-front and to the point — and prepare to deliver or answer the tough questions when things do not go as planned.
Image credit: BuddyCianci.com