Cause Marketing, Affinity, and Alignment

Last night at dinner, a long-time reader and a new friend asked: 'How important is alignment between cause and sponsor? What about CEO passion?

Here's how the discussion went.

For years the best conventional wisdom in cause marketing has been that you choose a cause based on ‘strategic philanthropy.’ If you’re an oil company, you pick environmental causes. If you make ladies purses, you pick women’s causes. If you sell toys, you pick children’s causes. If you’re a restaurant, you pick hunger causes. If you sell organic foods, you support organic farmers.

And indeed, academic researchers have consistently demonstrated that a clear alignment between cause and sponsors tend to pay off best. But it’s more complicated than that.

For instance, an auto body shop might naturally align with, say, a high school that teaches auto body repair. But it would be an unusual for that ‘cause’ to have much affinity.

On the other hand, if the owner of the body shop was a woman who had successfully fought breast cancer, then it might make sense for her shop to support Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which is loaded with affinity.

In the real world you see a lot of successful cause marketing campaigns where the relationship between the cause and the sponsor isn’t exactly ‘strategic.’

For instance, Chilis, the casual dining restaurant chain, does a very successful campaign each fall for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

In the traditional sense, there’s no strategic fit between Chilis and St. Jude. But Chilis does it because St. Jude offers so much affinity that customers can easily understand and appreciate the relationship.

Plus, as I often say, children are the 'universal cause.'

As for CEO passion, that’s a hard one because it can cut both ways. It’s hard to imagine a CEO who is passionate about… say… opera being able to carry that over to a cause marketing campaign.

By the same token, there’s a small toy company in California called Munchkin Inc that did a successful campaign for Susan G. Komen because the wife of the company’s VP of marketing, a young mother of two, contracted breast cancer.

Thanks to Patti Burge for a terrific meal and a delightful conversation. Patti took me up on my standing offer to go to lunch or dinner so as to pick my brain about cause marketing.

It's been my pleasure to receive great advice from many people who asked nothing in return other than that I 'pay it forward.'

So if you're in Salt Lake City or visiting, like Patti was, and would like to talk about cause-related marketing specifically, or marketing in general, then take me to lunch.

I'll give you my best advice and when we're done I'll just push the tab over to your side of the table.

Not in Salt Lake City, but still want to talk? Then send me your questions on the back of $50 gift certificate from Ruth's Chris and I'll contemplate them solo over a ribeye steak. [I'm kidding. Mostly].

Contact me at: aldenkeene @

Labels: , , , , ,