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Top 5-Bottom 5 Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns

It Was a Pretty Good Year

Since my first posting on October 17, I have reviewed about 20 cause-related marketing campaigns or promotions. As it turns out about third have come in for criticism and third for praise and I’ve been neutral on the final third.

For this last post of 2006, I review the five best and the five worst cause-related marketing campaigns. To be fair, I haven’t directly reviewed the Red Campaign, which seems to have sucked from the atmosphere all the cause-related marketing oxygen.

A few more I just haven’t gotten to yet; for instance, Circuit City’s Firedog service, for instance, as well as an interesting campaign from the electrical utility Rocky Mountain Power. Montblanc did a campaign with opera starlet Katherine Jenkins that was so like the one they did with Nicolas Cage that I choose not to address it. And there are some others.

In other words, it’s not an exhaustive list.

Nonetheless here is top-down and bottom-up the best and the worst cause-related marketing campaigns I’ve reviewed in 2006.

1. Circuit City and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. I must have seen 10 ads promoting Circuit City’s campaign for Boys and Girls Club featuring a duet CD with R&B artist and rapper Mary J. Blige. Some are bigger or more prominent than others, but the electronics retailer hasn’t missed a chance to promote the album or to describe the cause in their advertising. It doesn’t hurt that on Dec. 7, midway through the promotion, Blige was nominated for eight Grammy Awards.

2. Home Depot and USO. My last post featured a review of Home Depot’s canny campaign to induce people to redeem the gift cards received at Christmas before Jan. 28, 2007. When they do, 5 percent (up to $1 million) goes to help build USO centers in the United States and abroad. Most people think of gift cards as found money, and spend more than the value of the card. What a clever promotion to boost retail sales during the typically down first quarter.

3. CO-OP Financial Services and Children’s Miracle Network. CO-OP Financial Services, which is owned by many of the nation’s credit unions, is running a campaign for Children’s Miracle Network. Use their fee-free ATMs and a donation of ½-cent is made to CMN for each completed transaction, up to $180,000. The donation amount is probably too small, but what I found praiseworthy was the degree to which they integrated the campaign’s marketing, which included direct mail and ATM wraps. The ATM wraps are just a test, but here’s hoping that CO-OP rolls out these visually-powerful ‘billboards’ to all their 25,000 ATMs.

4. American Century Investments and LiveSTRONG. When I worked at Children’s Miracle Network we had a board member who was closely connected to Merrill Lynch. I racked my brains trying to figure out a cause-related marketing campaign that would work with high-dollar investments, but never came up with anything. American Century Investments and the anti-cancer charity LiveSTRONG, founded by 7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, have figured it out. Although their campaign is too short on details, I’m insanely jealous.

5. Proctor & Gamble and UNICEF. Proctor & Gamble’s Halloween-themed FSI for UNICEF earns praise for its consistency and for its note-perfect messaging. Along with its charity partners, Proctor & Gamble conducts packaged goods cause-related marketing better than anyone else I can name.

5. Montblanc-Nicolas Cage and Heal the Boy. I singled out Montblanc’s campaign with Nicolas Cage for derision for its lack of transparency. Although one of my crack readers found mention of ‘Heal the Boy,’ I could not. That it took even a little effort to find them suggests that ‘Heal the Boy’ isn’t quite ready for its close-up.

4. Austin Mini and Meals on Wheels. I liked this cute ad by San Francisco Bay-area agency Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners that appeared in magazines like Fast Company. What I didn’t like is that it seemed like a clever ad rather than a meaningful campaign. A search of the websites of both Mini’s and Meals on Wheels didn’t turn up anything to suggest otherwise.

3. JC Penney and JC Penney Afterschool Fund. My problem with this plush toy promotion was that because the Afterschool Fund is named for the company, JC Penney gets the benefits while consumers pay for it. But I argue that JC Penney is too clever by half. Consumers see through it, the cause underperforms, and JC Penney’s halo is tarnished.

2. Linen’s ‘n Things and Various Cancer Causes. I needed a scorecard to sort out all the offers, causes and products in this ad that was just too small and vague. I encourage every company to try cause-related marketing, but for crying out loud, be serious about it!

1. Hamilton Collections and Unnamed Breast Cancer Charity. Hamilton Collection makes collectable tchotchkes like the featured shoe called ‘Hope.’ But this promotion is missing who the benefiting charity is and how much donation is generated when the shoe is purchased. Twenty years ago they could have gotten away with these shortcomings, but not today.


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