Amex Small Business Saturday – a Stroke of CSR and Marketing Genius

American Express Small Business Saturday is a fantastic idea, and as this year’s Small Business Saturday approaches, American Express deserves some special recognition. They have successfully created an amazing all-in-one corporate social responsibility / marketing program that absolutely hits the nail on the head in appealing to both America’s hope for a stronger economy and its distaste for the dirty side of consumerism.

You’d have to be living under a rock (or in some other place several years in the past) to not be familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These are two perfectly contrived and heavily publicized shopping days that fall on the Friday and Monday (respectively) following Thanksgiving. They are a chance for Americans to stand in line and trample one another to take advantage of outrageous deals on consumer goods and electronics merely one day after celebrating their contentment with what they already have. Bizarre as this practice may seem, it has a real place in our modern economy. The influx of foot traffic into our brick and mortar stores and the virtual traffic in and out of retailer’s websites is there to launch the holiday shopping season with a bang, driving interest in the latest product releases and this year’s must-have consumer goods.

The amount of time and money that big business has poured into creating this beast and the disgusting lengths that individual shoppers go to in order to obtain these hot holiday goods perfectly highlights the gluttony of America’s unique consumer culture. It has caused many to step back and look for ways to improve consumer behavior. On top of this, the prevailing political narrative across both sides of the aisle as been that America’s economy is in desperate need of more jobs and more growth and that, among others, small businesses are a promising source of this growth. Enter American Express.

What if American Express could capitalize on this same enthusiasm in a way that would generate it millions of dollars in processing fees?  What if it could do this while at the same time recognizing the hard work and ingenuity of local businesses and giving disgruntled consumers an alternative to waiting in line to throw their money away to big businesses? They sure as hell can, and did.

American Express launched a very, very well executed campaign that will undoubtedly be taught in marketing classes in top universities for years to come. They started by partnering with small businesses across America, encouraging those businesses to offer special deals only available to American Express card members. They then pushed an enormous advertising and social media campaign that encourages consumers to spend the Saturday following Thanksgiving shopping at these businesses – using their Amex cards. American Express has provided small businesses with a slew of marketing material. They’ve mounted TV, web, and print ad campaigns, and even have gone as far as to provide a tool available on their website, through Facebook, through Twitter – literally everywhere – that identifies participating small businesses in proximity to a consumer’s GPS location. It is a three-way relationship that benefits the consumer, the small business, and obviously, American Express itself.

This campaign should be applauded not only as a marketing effort but also as a brilliant corporate social responsibility initiative. American Express understands that there is probably no other issue that polls better in America then creating jobs, recognizing and supporting our hard working neighbors and small business owners and eventually, using this support to bolster the economy and reverse the economic downturn. The company recognized this, and took advantage of it in a tremendous way.

The result: over 100 million consumers shopped at small businesses the Saturday following Thanksgiving in 2011. American Express is seen as rescuing the economy in a way that seemingly neither of our Presidential candidates could. The company comes across as a fantastic corporate citizen, genuinely committed to helping everyday Americans and rescuing the economy. I’m not alone when I say that suddenly I find myself wanting an Amex, a business of my own, and damnit, I want to go buy a dozen cupcakes from my local bakery right NOW.

Dave Gifford can be reached at dgifford@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter@david_gifford.