Marketing Generosity: Avon's Women's Health Programs and New Trends in Global Community Relations. (Research Paper)

Article excerpt

Abstract: As corporate operations are increasingly internationalized and as goods are sold in a growing number of locations, companies become responsible to new and diverse communities. This essay identifies the emergence of some new strategies of global strategic community relations among US-based multinationals through a case study of Avon Products Inc. It argues that new approaches have emerged from an increased recognition among corporate executives of the need to forge ethical relations with their various constituents, in conjunction with management pressure to make community relations programs an integral component of corporate business strategy. Through a historical, contextual analysis of the Avon World Wide Fund for Women's Health and the Avon Running Global Women's Circuit -- an international series of women-only 10K runs and 5K walks -- the essay explores the particular valence of offering opportunities for women to participate in sport as a form of global strategic community relations. Further, it seeks to identify the ethical and political commitments enabled and constrained by such programs.

Keywords: global strategic community relations, women's health, Avon

Executive Summary

Political, economic, and technological changes over the past 15 years have removed barriers from markets that until recently were closed or highly regulated. One significant effect of this change is that corporations are recognized to play a more central role in international relations of power and thus in defining and directing the values, rights and obligations of citizenship. Evidence of this shift can be found in the increasing propensity of corporations to create transnational philanthropy and community relations programs (hereinafter referred to as "global strategic community relations" programs or "GSCR").

The concern of this paper is to trace the specific historical conditions that have allowed for the emergence of GSCR programs and to examine the techniques and strategies through which they are deployed. While the essay acknowledges that these programs have arisen as corporations have come to view themselves as responsible to new and diverse communities,. the history presented here posits economic and managerial imperatives, as much as ethical considerations, as the spur to their creation. In other words, as corporations seek to produce and sell goods in an ever-expanding number of locations, philanthropy and community relations are increasingly deployed not merely to further some social good, but as techniques for market penetration and retention, both in the domestic market and abroad.

While much critical attention has been paid to the GSCR programs of corporations such as Nike -- largely because of the intense international focus on the labor practices of their subcontractors -- less attention has been paid to a different, but connected, set of relations among business, philanthropy, sport, and global-local relations, namely: the creation of programs that offer opportunities to participate in sport as a form of GSCR by corporations that do not sell sport-related products. An analysis of such programs offers professionals and academics interested in sports marketing insight into the ethical meanings and valences through which "women's sport" is produced, deployed, and consumed in "non-sport" contexts; how these meanings and valences might change -- or not -- as they travel transnationally; and how they might help transform the values attached to a non-sport brand or corporation.

It is to these issues that I turn in a case study of Avon, the direct sales cosmetics corporation which, since the late 1970s, has created opportunities for women to participate in physical activity. I argue that as women's participation in sport has come to be viewed as a route to their broader social empowerment, corporations such as Avon have sought to reshape their image and their customers' relationship to their brands by undertaking "pro-sport" activities. …