Owning Your Cause-Related Marketing Campaign

Over the last 15 years or so, I’ve seen my fair share of cause-related marketing, but I don’t remember ever seeing any featuring lighters. So, I was fascinated to come across this campaign from Zippo, candle designer Harry Slatkin, and retailer Bath & Body Works, benefiting Autism Speaks, the 3½ year old autism advocacy organization founded by Suzanne and Bob Wright.

So I went to the websites of all the entities named in the ad, which appeared in the October 2008 Elle Decor to learn more. And what did I learn? I learned that nobody seems to want to own this campaign.

Zippo.com has zip about it. Bathandbodyworks.com has a Slatkin lighter, but there’s zilch there about Autism Speaks. And there’s zero at AutismSpeaks.org, too. Could be there’s something in-store, but the closest Bath & Body Works to me is farther than I care to drive.

(Update on October 20, 2008: My new friend John D., who lives in the Eastern U.S. reports that he visited a Bath & Body Works over the weekend and inquired about the campaign. They told him that there was in-store signage for the campaign, but that the store manager was awaiting the go-ahead from management to display it.)

I hate to be such a noodge, but if you can get your cause marketing campaign in a national magazine, you should also be able to have details about it somewhere else; a press release, a statement, a paragraph about it on the website that’s listed in the ad (more to the point, 3 websites). But not in this case.

And there’s no one to point at besides Autism Speaks. Whether Autism Speaks initiated this campaign or someone else did, the buck stops with the benefiting charity.

I appreciate that Autism Speaks is growing very fast, powered no doubt, by Bob Wright’s corporate muscle. He was the chairman of NBC Universal until May 2007. And, hey, stuff slips through the cracks when you’re growing fast. But growth is a reason for this trip up, not an excuse. Wright is still vice-chairman at GE, NBC Universal’s parent and if any charity executive should understand that he should.

And don’t get me started on the ill-advised ‘portion of the proceeds’ language in the body copy of the ad. Language made worse by the addition of the irresponsible call to action: “Make your contribution today by purchasing the ‘Autism Speaks’ candle lighter at Bath and Body Works.”

I’m in the top ten of the world’s biggest fans of cause marketing (number 4, to be exact), but even I would never equate buying a product with making a contribution to a cause. All the more so since we don’t know what that contribution is.

All in all, I'm sad to say, a rookie effort from Autism Speaks and its sponsors.

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