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.

Labels: , , , ,