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Marketing to College Students? Get a Cause!

College students are tricky to reach nowadays with traditional media. Unlike previous generations they refuse to take their medicine and watch a lot of network TV from 8pm to 11pm like their predecessors.

Oh they consume media like a retired sumo wrestler eats carbs at an all you can eat buffet.
But if you don’t have a message that’s well suited for their cell phones or i-Pods, or that they can mashup on their Facebook page or blog, or if it doesn’t work as a sponsored billboard in Grand Theft Auto then good luck reaching them in a meaningful way.

One approach that consistently works is cause-related marketing and other elements of corporate social responsibility. This fact was underscored in the findings of a survey of college students published last week by Alloy Media + Marketing and conducted in April of 2007 by Harris Interactive.

Alloy Media + Marketing, a New York City-based provider of ‘non-traditional media programs,’ developed a list of the top 10 “Most Socially Responsible Brands” for college students aged 18-30 based on the survey. (The graph above from marketingcharts.com fails to list #10, Kashi).

Little wonder that out of the 10 brands in the list all but one of them are active cause marketers and all of them are consumer brands. Of the 10 only Burt’s Bees doesn’t have an established history of cause-related marketing. Although they’re currently doing a mobile tour in conjunction with the National Arbor Day Foundation that has a modest tree-planting element.

What constitutes social responsibility? Three of the top finishers, according to a press release from Alloy + Marketing were “fair labor practices” (74 percent ranked it most important), “eco-friendly or green practices” (66 percent), and “companies that donate to a charity or cause” (63 percent).

That Wal-Mart finished so well despite the fire it attracts for unfair labor practices can probably be attributed to the fact that the company has been a generous donor to charity since before Sam Walton was still alive and because it has made great strides in the last 18 months in particular at becoming green. Maybe no large company has come further faster than Wal-Mart.

If you’re trying to reach college students and you don’t already have a cause-related marketing or corporate social responsibility program in place, it’s probably time to add it to your marketing mix.

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