This month, Macy's and DoSomething.org are launching a new mobile-enabled campaign that encourages young people to sign up for volunteer projects in their communities. "America's Got Talent" host Nick Cannon is putting his talent to work in the community-focused effort as well.

Program Basics

The campaign connects teenagers across the USA with DoSomething.org, a non-profit organization that helps young people get plugged into volunteer projects where they live. Here's how it works. When young people go to Macy's "mstylelab" (formerly juniors and young men's departments), they are encouraged to scan designated QR codes with their mobile phones to trigger a $1 donation to DoSomething.org. Their phones then display content about how to get involved in action-oriented volunteer projects in their area that address issues of importance to teens, for example the environment.

There is also a social component to the program that encourages teens to "Raise your thumb. Rock your cause." Clicking Like on the mstylelab Facebook page triggers an equivalent $1 donation to DoSomething.org, with a total donation cap for social and mobile components of $250,000. Clicking the Like button enables DoSomething.org to contact the young person, and help them find ways to get involved in causes they're passionate about.

Nick Cannon, of "America's Got Talent" kicked off the program with a public service announcement, saying, "I represent youth empowerment in whatever way you possibly can do it, whether that is in your community or for yourself. Do Something has always been a great channel, a great platform for kids to funnel their energy through."

Success Objectives: Awareness and Affiliation

DoSomething.org is hoping the program will help them reach their goal of having a total of 2 million young people plugged into projects. There is a potential reward for active participants. DoSomething.org will award scholarships to the teens who submit the best projects.

Martine Reardon, Macy's executive vice president of marketing, expressed her enthusiasm for the program, saying, "We've been so inspired by the amazing work of the DoSomething.org members, and we hope our program will bring added awareness and funding to the organization so it can engage and enable more kids to take meaningful action."

But how will success of the program be measured? As with any retail program, there are costs associated with planning, logistics and implementation. If the number of volunteers spikes but foot traffic in the store is flat and conversion doesn't see a lift, will Macy's continue to try to combine shopping with positive social action? Or is the association with the cause enough to raise brand awareness in this age segment? Only the insiders know for sure, but these are questions that any retailer who wants to follow this pattern will need to ask themselves before getting started.

Social Mobile Local Strategy

From a digital strategy perspective, the Macy's/DoSomething.org program is an example of a well-resourced company attempting to harmonize the burgeoning digital channels to reach their most connected customer segments. The ingredients are impressive: mobile technology, QR codes, fashion, in-store shopping, volunteerism, social and community interaction, Facebook, America's Got Talent, Millennials and Digital Native customers.

It seems the social component of the program is limited to Facebook Like. This is surprising. I would think that there would be a way to connect participants with other teens who have similar interests through the program, with some layer of safeguard for privacy. Being able to see who has signed up for a given project would give the initiative more lateral connectivity, and could drive participation.

Also, I would think that teens may want to sign up in small groups, rather than individually. They can do this, of course, by simply signing up for the same program. But there doesn't seem to be a mechanism in place for Macy's to be the glue for group participation in volunteer projects.

Cause Marketing Moves to a New Demographic

Of course, mobile tech and altruism is not new. It's even got a name: cause marketing. Starbucks initiated a cause-marketing program in which they offered to donate $1 to Conservation International, up to $75,000, for each check-in on Facebook Places. Sports Authority donated $1 to "Boarding for Breast Cancer" for every Foursquare check-in at the store during the Winter X Games, with a cap at $1,000 per day. The Gap took cause marketing a step further by combining the offer to donate funds to a cause with a substantial discount on clothing items. Gap offered 30% off one item and a donation of $1 to Camp Interactive when customers checked in with Foursquare.

But the Macy's program is different because of the age of the participants it's targeting: Millennials, born between 1980 and 1995, and Digital Natives, born after 1995. Millennials are certainly a digitally-connected generation, and much has been written about their multichannel shopping patterns. But their younger counterparts, Digital Natives, have never experienced anything other than a full range of digital tools at their disposal for fun, entertainment, and now, shopping. The broad brushstrokes of a program like the one initiated by Macy's and DoSomething.org illustrate prospective strategies for combining rapidly emerging technologies into marketing campaigns to reach this up-and-coming wave of tech-savvy consumers.

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