Our Town, Our Heroes: What Authentic CSR Feels Like

Last week I was the lucky recipient of a vehicle loan from General Motors as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program, Our Town Our Heroes. OTOH launched about a month ago under Driving the Midwest (there is also Driving the Heartland, Southeast and Northeast) and it works like this:

Anyone can nominate a local hero, and every two weeks three finalists are announced who then compete for the most votes. Whoever gets the most votes, as well as the person who nominated them gets a GM vehicle for one week, a full tank of gas plus “a few other surprises”.

I’m generally not a fan of any kind of cause related contests and certainly not a fan of asking people to vote for me. I didn’t enter Big Love Little Hearts in Chase Community Giving or Pepsi Refresh and the last time I asked people to vote for me was in Junior High for Student Council (along with the childhood friend who nominated me for Our Town, Our Heroes).

But I was a fan of this. As both an observer and a recipient, Our Town, Our Heroes feels like authentic CSR from General Motors. Why?

Strong Brand Alignment.

From their website: “We are celebrating the local heroes who inspire you and drive positive change in your communities.”

GM brands Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac are hometown cars and trucks. They’re dependable. They can work all day long and look good doing it, and they’re not afraid to get dirty. They’re just like the people Our Town, Our Heroes celebrate.

Even the award of the vehicle itself is in line with brand value. What makes a hometown hero a hometown hero is that they spend their days doing a lot of the same things you do – driving their kids to and from school, soccer practice and playdates, running to the bank or the grocery store, cooking, keeping a house, going to softball practice or visiting friends and family. Things they need a dependable car that can keep up with them for.

It’s Personal.

When Driving the Midwest first let me know I was nominated we talked about some of my charitable activities, and when I mentioned the Little Leo Project I explained that my Volvo Sedan didn’t have room to bring enough stuffed animals for an entire children’s hospital so I usually just brought enough for the cardiac floor.

When they told me I won they said they were giving me a Chevy Suburban for a week so I’d have a vehicle big enough to bring all the stuffed animals I wanted to the children’s hospital. I excitedly said that I’d be going to Hope Children’s Hospital first, because they let me bring a couple volunteers and with room for that many stuffed animals – I’d certainly need the extra help!

Before they came to drop the Suburban off to my house, they called the hospital to find out what kind of stuffed animals were allowed. Then they went out and bought a few dozen stuffed animals of all shapes, sizes and colors and filled up the back of the truck with them. I had no idea they did this! While they were showing me all the features of the truck we walked around back so they could show me how to open the rear hatch. When they opened it and I saw all the stuffed animals I burst into tears! I was beyond touched.

It’s Not a Public Relations Campaign.

At least not a heavy one. In fact, you can’t find any information about this on the General Motors website – not even under Corporate Responsibility. You’d have to have already heard of the campaign to find the Driving The Midwest website. There’s no Driving the Midwest or Our Town, Our Heroes facebook page.

The OTOH team wasn’t aggressive about asking for P.R. material and there was no requirement. When they dropped off the car they asked if they could take a couple pictures to put on their site in a blog post and record a short video. They said that if I wrote about it on twitter, facebook or my blog to be sure and let them know and they’d share it, but they never made me feel like that was part of the deal of winning.

Too many CSR initiatives feel hollow these days and indeed the ones that have felt the most hollow to me have been peppered with controversy. Our Town, Our Heroes is a project that’s truly about brand value and mission. Because of that it’s also a project that works: I haven’t driven a GM vehicle in years. I loved driving the Suburban. Loved it. It was fast, it was sleek, it was comfortable and it drove phenomenally. Couple that and the very positive feelings this experience generated in me towards GM with the fact that my Volvo is on it’s last legs…and you have a consumer currently shopping for a new Chevy or GMC.¬†

What other CSR campaigns feel really authentic to you? Which ones don’t?

Much gratitude to General Motors, Driving the Midwest and Chevrolet for making this possible – you made a whole lot of children smile!