Lots of company presidents do “cause marketing.” Yet few go to the length of Kiehl’s Since 1851’s Chris Salgardo, who saddled up his Harley, spent six days riding all over New England with a bunch of celebrities, and then gave $100,000 to the American Foundation for AIDS Research. “Every company capable of writing a check should write one,” Salgardo says. “But I rode 1,400 dirty miles and donated all the proceeds. It’s not about the check—it’s about being personally involved. That’s what sets us apart.”
Thanks to its long history and unusual, all-natural products, Kiehl’s has long been a brand apart. Still headquartered in its original East Village apothecary in New York, the brand has never had to advertise. But a public profile is nevertheless a priority for Salgardo, whose belief that doing good means doing well has resulted not just in a company that’s doubled in size under his leadership, but one with some of the most inventive marketing around—usually featuring Salgardo himself. He didn’t just ride those 1,400 miles this past summer, he returned to New York leading a motorcycle parade of 150 celebrities, including the cast of Saved by the Bell. Earlier this fall, Salgardo hosted a karaoke party inside the flagship store as part of Fashion’s Night Out, and convinced Backstreet Boys frontman AJ McLean to judge it.
Salgardo funds his efforts via limited-edition products. Profits from Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream went to Amfar. For Earth Day, when actor Michael C. Hall (aka the eponymous serial killer in Dexter) did an in-store appearance, along with promo shots for Kiehl’s Rare Earth Pore Cleansing Masque, Salgardo gave the $100,000 in net proceeds to the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Product launches and special events like these generate the kind of media exposure that Salgardo says Kiehl’s couldn’t afford to buy. They also do a great job of getting customers to actually purchase Kiehl’s products. Consumers, Salgardo says, aren’t dumb: “They want to buy products from a company with a conscience.”
Editor's Note: This is just one of ten Brand Genius winners being introduced by Adweek this week. Check back Tuesday through Thursday of this week for more!