Guide to Cause Marketing


Sandra Sims has done a nice piece on Cause Marketing. Its kind of a beginners guide, but she makes some great points that are reminders to us all. Here are some of the highlights, but check out the full article here

While these campaigns can be beneficial, a nonprofit-business partnerships should not be entered into lightly.  They require time, effort and often upfront costs to be successful.   So you can consider whether this may be a right for your nonprofit organization or business, this article offers a basic primer, including some examples and resources for further research.

Cause marketing partnerships must be win-win-win

I often hear from nonprofits who want corporations to “show them the money” and don’t take the time to look at it from the business’s point of view.  There must be financial, PR or some other advantage to the business in order for them to participate in any partnership. There is often a third group that must be considered, consumers, and if this promotion benefits them.

The best cause marketing campaigns benefit all three groups. As Gennefer Snowfield says, cause marketing “must be a) transparent, b) authentic, and c) integrated. The belief is that if a cause marketing initiative upholds these tenets, it will be effective in connecting the consumer, company, and cause in ways that benefit all parties.”

Benefits for nonprofit organizations

The nonprofit should have one primary goal for the campaign though.  Is it short term fundraising, a long term funding partnership, public awareness or something else?  Decide on this goal first and it will inform the rest of your decision making.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) provides a great example of cause marketing through product sales.  This year they partnered with candy brand Mike and Ike for special edition flavors with ALSF branded packaging.  The timing of the product release was intentional: September was Childhood cancer awareness month. 

Next time I was at Walgreen’s I made a point to get my hands on a box.  Will I buy other flavors of this candy in the future?  Quite possibly.  Which leads to  benefits to the business.

Benefits for businesses

As I mentioned earlier, the business must have a reason for entering into this agreement or it will simply not work for them.  After all, companies are in the business of making money, not giving it away.  Just like nonprofits, the business should have a specific goal in mind for the partnership.

Here are some of the potential benefits to businesses for entering into a cause marketing campaign:

  • Sell more of an existing product by giving it a new spin
  • Create new products to generate consumer interest in the brand (improving sales in the process)
  • Retailers may wish to see more foot traffic into their store
  • Public relations, the “halo effect” of being associated with a good cause

Benefits for Consumers

Whether your campaign involves a co-branded product or not, the viewpoint of the consumer must be taken into consideration.  What level of involvement does the public play in this campaign?  Are you asking them to buy something they wouldn’t normally just because it has your logo on it or helps fund your group?  Will the consumer perceive that participating is beneficial to them?

Also consider how easy is will be for people to participate in the campaign.  While programs such as Yoplait yogurt’s pink lids and  have been successful, be careful about requiring additional action on the part of the consumer past the initial purchase. Box Tops for Education is a similarly structured program where proof of purchase must be turned it. 

Motive Matters

It’s important to consider how a cause marketing campaign will be received so you can head-off potential objections from all three of your stakeholder audiences.

Unfortunately some potential criticisms have grown out of legitimate concerns from actual marketing promotions. Especially with the pink for breast cancer type campaigns, there are manufacturers that have jumped on the bandwagon, producing pink themed merchandise.  Wholesalers can sell these items to organizations or individuals who then use them to raise funds or as thank you gifts.  On the other hand there are many items that end up in retail store shelves that provide no financial benefit to any charity at all.

Other times you will see labels on merchandise stating that the brand “supports breast cancer awareness.”  That’s fine, but it’s a rather vague statement isn’t it.  Many consumer will not think twice about it.  Call me cynical, but when I see something like that I wonder, how do they support it?  Are they donating money or simply saying they lend support as a marketing line?

These types of actions have even led to terms such as pinkwashing and greenwashing which refer to gray area or even unethical tactics on the part of corporations. In response, the Think Before You Pink campaign calls for “more transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions.”  I’m sure watchdog organization exist for other causes as well.


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