An Exploitive Cause-Related Marketing Campaign

In the September 2008 issue of Cookie magazine, a kind of parenting magazine for mothers who can still fit in their skinny jeans, I came across this small ad from the upscale retailer Lord and Taylor on behalf of a new charity called Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.

The headline reads “Buy a Cookie, Save a Life.’

My reaction was, “Oh no they just didn’t!”

The ad was one of seven on a single page; the kind the sales staff bundles together and sells for a bargain rate. So I automatically assumed that maybe Cookie magazine had put it together. After all, no charity would dare suggest that the purchase of a $3 cookie would actually save a human life. It’s exploitive and, well, a lie. And, critics be damned, cause-related marketing is not about lying.

So I double-checked the Lord and Taylor website and listed on Sept 13 for what appears to be each of their stores is the following notice:

BUY A COOKIE, SAVE A LIFE
September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This year, help Lord & Taylor support the launch of the highly anticipated children's charity, Cookies for Kids' Cancer, by stopping by any Lord & Taylor store starting September 13th* and purchasing an all-natural chocolate chip cookie. 100% of each $3 treat goes directly to helping find a cure for pediatric cancers- it's a delicious way to make a difference.

*Event subject to change or cancellation. While supplies last.


OK, maybe Lord and Taylor did this.

So a checked the Cookies for Kids’ Cancer site and found this:
Thank you for visiting! We are busy readying our site for launch and plan
to go live on September 1st. Be ready to get involved! Start thinking about
where you could hold a bake sale! Cookies for Kids' Cancer, along with your
support, will make the letter "C" stand for COOKIES and not cancer.

The campaign is cute enough. There are a few children’s cancer charities out there, but none are nationally prominent in the United States. A new one with a smart mission and good marketing might be able to make good headway. Lord and Taylor is venerable (even ancient) retailer stateside, so a cause relationship with them is a nice coup for a startup charity.

But if Cookies for Kids’ Cancer sanctioned these ads, they’re getting their cause-related marketing off on the wrong foot.

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