Skip to main content

Practice Transparency in Your Cause Marketing Campaigns or Do Damage Control

Through the Glass Cleary

Cause-related marketing campaigns have been in the news this last week in the States.

Much of the coverage was prompted by the Ad Age article (registration required) that estimated that perhaps $18 million has been generated by the RED campaign while perhaps $100 million has been spent promoting it. Bobby Shriver, the cofounder of RED disputes both figures, but hasn’t provided new ones. Maybe he’ll save that for the Cause Marketing Forum coming up May 17 in New York City.

I’m not going to rehash the numbers or try to mitigate damage. Plenty of people have already trod that sodden ground. But there is one element common to all the news coverage I’ve seen with which I’m in complete agreement… namely, the need for greater transparency.

Here’s how they put it in the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek:

The subhead in the Christian Science Monitor article dated March 12 reads; “Companies spent $1.34 billion on ‘cause-related marketing’ last year in the US, but critics cite a lack of transparency.”

The March 14 Newsweek article, “Does Shopping for a Good Cause Really Help?” cites Ben Davis, “maybe Red is a concept overreached,” says Davis. “I think they’ve lost the faith of the broad sector of the cause-market, and the reaction to [my] very small site has shown that.” Davis, a San Francisco marketer, created a series of Red parodies on display at [In the interest of full disclosure, I was quoted in this Newsweek piece, too.]

As cause marketers we could circle the wagons and get defensive. That was my first impulse. But what we really need to do is listen closely to what is being said. We need to a better job of being transparent. We have to banish from our language the phrase “a portion of the proceeds,” or any of the myriad and equivocal variations.

I know, I know. There are legitimate reasons for being nonspecific.

But unless and until we excise all the weasel-words from the offering language in our cause-related marketing campaigns, we cause marketers deserve all the bad publicity we get.

For charities that means that you have to insist that the amount of the donation be transparent to the end-user in your sponsorship contracts and agreements.

If you’re an agency, you have to warn all parties about the PR dangers of obfuscating. Otherwise, forget Ad Age, Newsweek or the Christian Science Monitor, more likely outfits like this one will out your client’s penny-pinching.

For sponsors it means if you have to offer a donation with real appeal. If you can’t, well, then, call your agency and charity partner(s) and figure out something else. Cause marketing is only one way to collaborate with charities.

Unless we nip this in the bud, this bit of bad publicity could turn into anti-cause marketing tipping point.


greg said…
Rat own, Paul. Excellent job, as always, of going right to the point. I sure hopw nonprofits are paying attention to the dynamics of all that is going on right now. It would be a profound mistake for the nonprofit sector to think it's not affected by (RED), or the mess at the Masons, or the Smithsonian, et al. It's all interwoven. The lack of accountability affects everyone.

Popular posts from this blog

Top Eight Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns of 2007

Yeah, You Read it Right. It's a Top 8 List.

More cause-related marketing campaigns are unveiled every day across the world than I review in a year at the cause-related marketing blog. And, frankly, I don’t see very many campaigns from outside North America. So I won’t pretend that my annual list of the top cause-related marketing campaigns is exhaustive.

But, like any other self-respecting blogger, I won’t let my superficial purview stop me from drawing my own tortured conclusions!

So… cue the drumroll (and the dismissive snickers)… without further ado, here is my list of the eight best cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007.

My list of the worst cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007 follows on Thursday.

Chilis and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
I was delighted by the scope of Chilis’ campaign for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As you walked in you saw the servers adorned in black co-branded shirts. Other elements included message points on the Chilis beverage coas…

Cause-Related Marketing Meets Microfinance and Mix it Up

You’d have had to have been in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia the last year or so to have missed the run up of microfinance. Between 2004 and 2006 more than $4 billion of capital flowed into microfinance institutions. All told experts say the total loan microfinance loan portfolio may be as much as $12.5 billion. And of course the father of microfinance, Muhammad Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Microfinance is now so respectable, so effective, (so profitable!) that it’s already enjoying its first global backlash.

Actually that first sentence is hyperbole. Because even in Ulaanbaatar… far from almost anywhere on the vast, frigid steppes of Mongolia… microfinance is thriving such that the earliest recipients of micro loans there are now complaining about taxes and government bureaucracy! And May 29-31, 2008 the Conference of Microfinance Institutions will convene in Ulaanbaatar, the eleventh such annual conference.
Now Advanta, a credit card issuer to small…

Cause Marketing Beer with BOGO, Brew One Give One

On Monday’s post I touched on the topic of telling people what your cause marketing campaign accomplished when completed. I’ve recommended this approach to clients as a way to keep open the lines of communication with customers and clients and to get extra value from the campaign.

In other words, you’ll want to hold back some of the promotion’s budget to continue to activate the effort until the very end.

But what if that really cuts across the grain in your organization? What if it’s just not in your corporate DNA to do anything but to frontload your cause marketing activation? Well, then, add the report back to the activation of your next cause marketing effort.

New Belgium Brewing of Ft. Collins, Colorado, said to be the seventh largest brewery in the United States, did just that with this ad in Sunset magazine. I found this ad in the Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database.

New Belgium donates $1 for every barrel it brews and sells. It’s a BOGO cause marketing effort, Buy One Give One. …