Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Marketing Generosity: Avon's Women's Health Programs and New Trends in Global Community Relations

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Marketing Generosity: Avon's Women's Health Programs and New Trends in Global Community Relations

Article excerpt

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. I then seek to evaluate these programs by identifying the ethical and political commitments to women's sport and health they enable and those that they constrain.

The data for this project consists of Avon's promotional materials; print media coverage of Avon's business and public relations strategies; "fact checking" interviews with Avon employees; documents from the Conference Board--a major international business membership organization which publishes reports on corporate contributions and corporate citizenship; and texts generated by experts in the field of corporate philanthropy. Drawing on the tools of critical and interpretive theory, the essay treats each of these data sets as a discursive element and seeks to show how these elements get connected to one another so as to constitute knowledge about corporate philanthropy, community relations, and women's health. Moreover, in taking a genealogical approach (Foucault 1977; Dreyfus and Rabinow, 1983) to the emergence of GSCR, the essay works to make visible the economic, social, and cultural characteristics of the historical context in which GSCR emerged as a permissible and desirable practice. …

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