Cause Marketing Becomes ‘The Man’

Tuesday found me in a meeting with a new client. We were talking about cause marketing and I asked if they would like to see any data or research on the value of cause marketing in your marketing mix. I keep a digital portfolio of such information at the ready.

“For who?” he asked. “For your sales group or your management team,” I said.

“Nope,” he replied. “We don’t need it.”

Now my client is a sophisticated marketer with gray at his temples and decades of experience at strategic and tactical marketing.

For my part, I’ve been involved with cause marketing to some degree or another for coming up on 20 years now but on Tuesday I realized for the first time that cause marketing has reached its tipping point. Cause marketing has become ‘the man.’

I use the catchphrase ‘tipping point’ deliberately, if reluctantly. Before Malcolm Gladwell popularized it, it was pretty much reserved for use by epidemiologists to describe the point at which a viral outbreak becomes an epidemic.

Still, that’s where we are with cause marketing. Cause marketing is poised to become an epidemic.

By now everyone understand the practice even if they don’t know always know the vocabulary of it. Just as a whole generation of kids has grown up having never used a rotary phone, the rising generation has never known a time when their cartons of Yoplait didn’t sport a pink ribbon once a year.

Decision-makers don’t need to see the justification for cause marketing. There are long stretches of every year when cause marketing can be spotted on every fricken can of Coke, and every box of Tide, for cryin’ out loud. Each May-June 20-something million paper balloons hang in 4,000 Wal-Mart coast to coast.

The logic leads itself. If cause marketing’s good enough for marketers like Coke and Proctor and Gamble, and operators like General Mills and Wal-Mart, it’s probably good enough for your consumer-facing good or service.

I greet all this with sense of wonder and appreciation, along with some dismay at how long it took to get to this point.

Can cause marketing still grow?

Yup. Just as an epidemic can grow until everyone is infected, so too can cause marketing.

For a very long time cause marketing has represented about 9-11 percent of sponsorship. Sponsorship is dominated televised sports like the World Cup, The Olympics, the NFL, MLB, the NBA and NHL, and I’ve long assumed that if cause marketing wanted to really compete with sports sponsorship it needed to get serious about television. (In some quarters it has.)

But I may be wrong. It could be that cause marketing will grow so ubiquitous, taking place in so many places and with so many sponsors and causes, that it will grow past sports sponsorship. I’ve long predicted this day because while sports offers fanaticism, it doesn’t offer genuine emotional depth. Cause marketing offers depth of emotion in spades.

And on that day that cause marketing surpasses sports sponsorship in dollars spent it will not only be the man, it will be ‘the woman,’ too.

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