Cone Cause Evolution Study

You Say You Want an Evolution?

There’s not a card-carrying cause marketer who’s been in the business more than 10 years or so who doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to Cone, Inc. the cause-marketing and social responsibility agency now owned by the Omnicom Group.

Back in the day 14 years ago when we were knocking on corporate doors, putting together proposals and making presentations to corporate marketers about the only substantive weapon we had at our disposal that suggested that cause marketing worked was the old Cone-Roper survey of attitudes about cause marketing. It was a revelation and it helped enormously.

The Cone surveys have been often updated over the years.

The latest version of the Cone study, called the Cone Cause Evolution Study, is out and many of my fellow cause-marketing bloggers and analysts have already done an admirable job of addressing the study’s intriguing findings. Check Selfish Giving, or David Hessekiel’s newsletter at the Cause Marketing Forum, for instance.

This latest version finds a sharp increase in people who say that they make their consumer purchases with a strong eye on corporate responsibility. That’s another way of saying that cause marketers will still have their jobs next year!

But valuable as they are, the weakness of the Cone surveys has always been that they measure attitudes, not behavior. While the Cone surveys tell us what people say about cause-related marketing and corporate social responsibility, they don’t tell us what they actually do.

Attitudinal surveys have a built-in bias to them. If a researcher calls you and asks… in effect (‘all things being equal’)…whether you’d buy a can of chicken soup from a corporate angel or a corporate scoundrel, very few people would say, “I prefer the scoundrel.”

But all things aren’t equal.

Suppose you’re a busy mom and you drop into the store to pick up a can of chicken soup and whatever else. The kids… or the boss… is on the phone yapping at you to come home or get back to work. You could go to the soup aisle and choose from among the 1,200 cans of soup, or you could just grab the soup on the endcap, which is on sale, and may be the house brand of soup with no reputation as an angel or a scoundrel!

These days consumer behavior is actually really easy to track. It’s insanely easy to track online purchases and quite easy to track offline purchases, especially when a store employs club cards.

Does Campbell’s longstanding Labels for Education campaign move the sales needle? I submit that the marketers and brand managers at Campbell’s know exactly how much it does. And we can infer from the fact that Campbell’s keeps adding SKUs to the campaign, including food service items, that it works.

Thanks to the demographic information collected when sign up for a club card, they also know just who their consumer is, enabling them to market very specifically to those people.

But this kind of data seldom sees the light of day. Campbell’s and its retailers have zero incentive to release it publicly and many competitive reasons not to. Likewise, why would General Mills release sales data about Yoplait’s lid campaign for Susan G. Komen? They may not even share the data with Komen.

In my view, there’s a role here for academics to step in as a third-party analysts who can both shield the data and analyze and report on it for the good of the rest of us.

The Cone Cause Evolution Study is a welcome addition to the growing body research for cause marketers and a terrific measure of the current American zeitgeist when it comes to corporate social responsibility.

But for me the more evolved cause marketing research would be based on behavioral data not attitudes.

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