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Disaster du Jour: Odwalla’s Haiti Hope Campaign

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School's MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Marasie Schumacher

Just over a year has passed since the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and we rarely hear about it anymore in the news. Instead we are bombarded with the latest images of the terrible destruction in Japan. How long will this be on our radar and what will be the next “disaster de jour?”  Odwalla’s Haiti Hope Campaign was an attempt by The Coca-Cola Company to raise money for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Was this a legitimate attempt at helping a country at a time of need or were their efforts more of an attempt to ride the media bandwagon to sell more juice?  While I do applaud Odwalla's efforts, is this really the most efficient way to support a cause?

Odwalla created the Mango Lime-Aid juice flavor to help victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.  One hundred percent of profits were to be donated to the Haiti Hope Project for 5 years.  The project’s total investment was estimated at $9.5 million, which included donations from partnering organizations. The project affects 25,000 mango farmers by increasing the mango trade in Haiti along with the nonprofit, TechnoServe.  Despite the catchy name, this flavor didn’t sell and was taken off the shelves within one year.  Currently, ten cents from every Odwalla Mango Tango smoothie sold will be donated to Haiti Hope, up to $500,000 for the remaining 4 years.

Using resources from its parent company, Coca-Cola, Odwalla poured money into the marketing of the campaign through television ads, national print and even a display in Times Square.  Odwalla was able to reach a large audience through this campaign, spreading the message for Haiti while also promoting its brand. This begs the question: how much more effective could the company have been if it had donated the money directly to an organization such as the Red Cross instead?

As socially responsible consumers, we want the money we spend on purchasing consumer goods to go to a cause that has the most “bang for our buck.”  We are aware of all the greenwashing that companies use in their advertising and we know how difficult it is to determine if a business is truly values-driven.  So, when looking at a social cause campaign, the key is to look at the sustainable development and long-term potential of a company’s efforts.  In the example of the Odwalla campaign, I wonder what will happen to the Haitian mango farmers after 5 years when Coca-Cola’s aid stops.

While disaster relief is undoubtedly important, it seems that companies could better use their resources to empower communities to develop sustainably on a long-term basis through partnerships with NGOs or by creating their own foundations or even non-profit arms.

Should we look for a Jumping Berry Japan Juice in the near future?  It seems that Coca-Cola learned their lesson with the Odwalla Haiti Hope campaign—this time Coca-Cola decided to create a reconstruction fund and donate cash and products for victims of the 2011 earthquake in Japan.