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When the Justice League comes together to fight evil, evil stands little chance.

In a world of economic uncertainty and social unrest, superheroes provide children with mentors, entrepreneurs with lessons in responsibility, and the rest of us with inspiration.

Now, DC Entertainment, the creators of renowned characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, has joined hands with Time Warner and Warner Brothers to leverage the collective power of these superheroes to tackle the troubles of the real world.

Their target: The hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, an epidemic that has reached frightening proportions while being sparsely reported by the media.

We Can Be Heroes comes with immense leverage [thousands of employees, millions of canvases and platforms, a global fan base] and aspirational goals. In collaboration with three global nonprofits – Save the Children, Mercy Corps and International Rescue Committee – the conglomerates will match dollar for dollar up to a million dollars.

Their two-year goal: $2 million spread evenly among the three NGOs.

“13 million people go hungry in Africa. That is unimaginable. How are we letting this happen?” asked Cokie Roberts, prominent NPR journalist, author and board trustee for international nonprofit Save the Children, at a press junket Monday morning in New York City.

We_Can_Be_HeroesIntegrated Corporate Social Responsibility

Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner, who opened the event iterated that this cause marketing campaign is much more than straight up philanthropy for the company. “This is our corporate responsibility,” he said, adding, “We Can Be Heroes will capitalize on 90 years of storytelling to a global audience. We can help create far reaching awareness on a famine that can be fixed.”

Alluding to a consumer base already saturated with information, diffused by competitive branding exercises and weakening attention spans, Bewkes said, “Today consumer engagement is more important than ever before. Hunger isn’t geographically bound and our humanitarian care shouldn’t be either. Like the Justice League, together we can be heroes.”

everaging The Power of Herosim — and Interactive Media

This well thought out campaign – there is a merchandising component, a well-designed website and plans to integrate the message on all possible Warner and DC platforms globally – will capitalize on two leverage points: 1) The potent power of our collective strength in making a difference, and 2) The effectiveness of rich storytelling through a vast platform of interactive media.

I often say that half the battle of doing the right thing is telling your story effectively. In today’s connected world, stories matter. And this is where “having the opportunity to do something bigger than ourselves” can prove inspirational and monumental.

Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment, put it well: “This [campaign] is about awareness and using the intellectual property our companies own to make consumers aware of the crisis.” Nelson was picking up on something Roberts alluded to in our earlier conversation:

“Americans just need to know about this. We are a wonderful people and once we know that people are in dire need, we respond. Getting that information out there will really save millions of lives.”

There is no arguing that the need for help is indeed great.

As Barry Meyer, Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros., who sat down with CSRwire exclusively for an interview said, it is a perfect fit for the entertainment conglomerates.

“We thought it was a very good fit: Both the messaging and the corporate commitment. We are a big company and we have a lot of ways to communicate with people…to get the message out on what’s going on in Africa. I certainly know many people who are anxious to find ways and mechanisms to help with problems like this including many of our employees outside the United States, who are more aware of the hunger crisis in Africa than frankly, our US employees are.”

With domestic unemployment stoically high, the stock market continuing to rollercoaster and a distracting election year in the U.S., attracting domestic consumers to engage, learn and perhaps most importantly, donate, will not be easy. “That’s where collaborating with three international Justice_LeagueNGOs with feet on the ground is crucial. We expect them to keep us on track, tell us what is working and what isn’t,” said Jeff Robinov, President of Warner Bros. Pictures Group.

For Robinov and team, this campaign falls fair and square within their corporate social responsibility strategy by fluidly integrating philanthropy, engagement, business units with their core competencies – story telling – to drive results for a humanitarian crisis.

I asked Meyer what his hopes are with activating the company’s internal audience:

“We have a significant employee population outside the U.S. We want them to know that we are behind these issues and working on them. As for the employees inside the US, where awareness is low, the aim is to raise that awareness. Make them aware of a huge humanitarian crisis that’s happening halfway around the world.”

With consumer confidence and employee morale low in recent years, it is no surprise that companies are looking for innovative ways to keep their employees motivated and loyal. Referring to the recent Occupy Wall Street protests, Robinov told me:

“See what’s going on with the protests across the country, a lot of that for me personally is related to a lack of human faces for corporations today. We need to be respectful of our bottom-line and our reputation but we are really moved and we really want to help these people. As a company, Time Warner has always reached out to people in times of need. We have a moral obligation to do this.”

CSR: Deploying Core Competencies To Target a Social Issue

At the end of the day, for the companies — and their nonprofit partners — involved, We Can Be Heroes is emblematic of what integrated CSR can look like: Knowing your strengths as a business entity and leveraging them and your stakeholders to target a social issue.

As Meyer told me, “Social responsibility in a certain way speaks for itself. The word responsibility implies an obligation. Big companies have an obligation to society. They make a lot of money and have an obligation to deal with issues that are important to their employee bases…and we feel the obligation very, very deeply.”

He also emphasized that this marks the first time the global brands have come together to target an issue that is long standing and will therefore require long term commitment and out of the box thinking that goes beyond one stop solutions.

The success of WeCanBeHeroes.org will ultimately rely on a global consumer awakening and the belief that together we can all be heroes. Who doesn’t believe in the power of that?

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary section Talkback on January 24, 2012.

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