NEW YORK: Dick's Sporting Goods, the retailer, has demonstrated how connecting brand purpose with philanthropy can both boost worthwhile causes and generate a meaningful return on marketing investment.

Ryan Eckel, the organisation's vp/brand, addressed this topic during a session at Advertising Week 2015 in New York City.

More specifically, he discussed the "Sports Matter" program, which aims to help tackle a funding shortfall facing high-school sports through a mix of direct donations and crowdfunding contributions for young athletes in need of support.

"What we saw was shocking – even to us, and we're in the business," Eckel said. (For more, including further details of the Sports Matter campaign, read Warc's exclusive report: How Dick's Sporting Goods made philanthropy pay.)

"Twenty-seven percent of high schools are projected to have no sports by the year 2020 [and] $3.5bn was cut out of youth sports funding from the years 2009 to 2011. So just in those three years, you lost just over a billion [dollars] a year."

Now in its second year, Sports Matter has drawn on emotional storytelling that encapsulates the challenges weighed against these budding sports stars.

"Our brand is about this idea that sports makes people better: not just fitness, not just because you're healthier, but because it encourages a work ethic, and discipline, and time-management, and all these amazing qualities," he said. "So we look for stories that speak to those values."

This approach is exemplified by "We Could be King", a documentary from Dick's and Tribeca Digital Studios focusing on two inner-city high schools that were traditionally sporting rivals, but merged due to a lack of resources.

From this content to clips on YouTube, the results are consistently powerful. "From a brand perspective, whenever we do storytelling in this manner, it always outperforms any of our other marketing vehicles," Eckel said.

"We're a retail marketer, so we have direct mail, we have Sunday circulars, we have all these things that hit pretty hard. But whenever we just tell emotive stories, from ... all the metrics we look at, the storytelling outperforms on ROI … So it's been a business driver as well, even though that wasn't the intention at the beginning."

Data sourced from Warc