05/27/2011 02:51 EDT | Updated 07/27/2011 05:12 EDT

Marketing Beyond Materialism

My name is Andreas Souvaliotis and I run "AIR MILES for Social Change," one of the most prominent social ventures in Canada. It's the first business of its kind in the world -- we harness the enormous popularity of consumer loyalty points to build mass-appeal environmental and healthy lifestyle incentives for all Canadians, in partnership with governments at every level -- municipal, provincial and federal.

We built our social venture based on this core belief: Marketing has changed forever because consumers have changed so fundamentally. Consumers are now seeking more than just pure materialistic satisfaction -- they want their consumption experience to also have an impact or make a difference somehow. Marketing has also changed forever because it's no longer about us marketers buying glossy ads and talking down to our listeners (that was the world 20 years ago) and it's not even about having a CRM enabled dialogue with our consumers (that was the world 10 years ago). Now it's about seeding, enabling and facilitating dialogue AMONG our consumers.

The combination of these two fundamental and permanent changes in the world of marketing spawned the creation of AIR MILES for Social Change. In our changed marketing landscape, the old-fashioned version of 'corporate social responsibility' doesn't win consumers' hearts anymore. People don't choose Brand A over Brand B at the grocery store anymore because of a big glossy ad in a magazine telling them that Brand A donated $1 million to their favorite charity. But they will choose Brand A, very passionately, if they understand how their personal choice of that product will somehow make a difference in the world -- and also by knowing that as more people choose and use that product, that difference in our world will become even larger.

Our particular specialization is in the area of consumer loyalty. Canadians, more than any other nation in the world, love collecting loyalty points. They attach disproportionate "trophy value" to their points. They love opening their loyalty program mail and they love doing or buying exactly what their loyalty program tells them to do or buy. So why not harness that huge reach and 'stickiness' in order to create faster, broader social change in Canada?

So here is what we created over the past four years:

We took this country's most popular loyalty program (AIR MILES) which has a world-leading reach into more than 70% of Canadian households and carefully and very authentically "greened" it from the inside out (for instance, we enabled Canadians to now have the choice of redeeming their loyalty points for strictly accredited environmental products and services, such as mass transit passes or organic products). Then, on that solid foundation of eco-authenticity and eco-relevance, we created the world's first government-funded, loyalty-points-based environmental and healthy lifestyle incentive program. Now, just a few short years into our fantastic journey, we reward Canadians from coast to coast with their favorite AIR MILES when they choose to take public transit instead of driving, when they conserve electricity, when they divert their trash and -- starting next month -- when they choose to buy produce or other accredited healthy groceries! (Here is my most recent TV interview about it, from just this past week).

We are very proud of what we've created, because we're truly enabling social change on a mass scale -- it's a world first, made right here in Canada, and it's starting to get noticed a lot internationally as well. I recently spent a day with Prince Charles in the U.K., because he developed a keen interest in our program and wanted to explore how we could replicate it in Britain.

You can learn more about us at