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

Three Ways to Be Charitable

I’ve spent a big chunk of my career working with or for charities. Many of my dearest and ablest friends are in the charity ‘space.’ And the creativity and problem-solving coming out of the nonprofit sector has never been greater.  Although I’ve had numerous nonprofit clients over the last decade or so, I haven’t worked in a charity for about 12 years now, which gives me a certain distance. Distance lends perspective and consequently, I get a lot of people asking me which charities I recommend for donations of money or time. My usual answer is, “it depends.” “On what?” they respond. “On what you want from your charitable activities,” I reply. It sounds like a weaselly consultant kind of an answer, but bear with me for a moment. The English word charity comes from the Latin word caritas and means “from the heart,” implying a voluntary act. Caritas is the same root word for cherish. The Jews come at charity from a different direction. The Hebrew word that is usually rendered as charity is t…

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…

Five Steps To Nurture a 30-Year Cause Marketing Relationship

Last Monday, July 22, 2013, March of Dimes released the annual results of its campaign with Kmart... now in its thirtieth year... and thereby begged the question, what does it takes to have a multi-decade cause marketing relationship between a cause and a sponsor?

In the most recent year, Kmart,the discount retailer, donated $7.4 million to the March of Dimes, bringing the 30-year total to nearly $114 million. March of Dimes works to improve the health of mothers and babies.

Too many cause marketing relationships, in my estimation, resemble speed-dating more than long-term marriage. There can be good reasons for short-term cause marketing relationships. But most causes and sponsors benefit more from long-term marriages than short-term hookups, the main benefit being continuity. Cause marketing trades on the trust that people, usually consumers, put in the cause and the sponsor. The longer the relationship lasts the more trust is evidenced.

There's also a sponsor finding cost that…