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Asymmetry in Cause Marketing

Research shows that when there is asymmetry in cause marketing between the sponsors and the cause, the entity that gains the most from the relationship is the smaller brand.

But there’s an asymmetry continuum of sorts.

For instance, when Yoplait yogurt and Susan G. Komen for the Cure link up, the brands which are arguably equivalent in their respective spheres, the benefits confer symmetrically.

Same when Weight Watchers and Share Our Strength tie in together.

So what happens when l’Oreal hooks up with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, as it did earlier this year with a cosmetics bag campaign? Or like Jiffy Lube does in my home state of Utah, when it does a holiday season cause marketing campaign benefiting the Utah Food Bank?

In such cases, the causes benefit disproportionately thanks to their association with the better known brands.

Does the obverse hold true? That is, can a sponsor benefit asymmetrically from an association with a better-known nonprofit brand?

Yes it can. For instance, the retailer Ashley Furniture benefited asymmetrically when it did a campaign for Habitat for Humanity earlier this year.

But that’s not at work here with this campaign from Iams benefiting Home 4 the Holidays pet adoption drive from the Helen Woodward Animal Center. The Woodward Center created the pet adoption drive in 1999. Last year more than 1.2 million pets were adopted in the effort.

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank…whose movie Amelia just came out… is the campaign’s spokesperson.

In addition to the Home 4 the Holidays pet adoption drive, the Woodward Center, founded in 1972, teaches personnel from animal shelters around the globe how best to save animal lives. As a result, the Woodward Center has a larger ‘footprint’ than just the 12 acres it sits on in Rancho Santa Fe, California.

Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to say that Iams is the better-known brand than the Woodward Center. In my estimation the Woodward Center benefits asymmetrically in this sponsorship.

So why would Proctor & Gamble, which owns Iams and is a very savvy cause marketer, do this deal?

I expect there are several reasons:
  • The Home 4 the Holidays pet adoption drive touches a lot of pet owners. Woodward says it’s more than 3 million. Some portion will be new pet owners. That is, people who haven’t already established their pet food preferences.
  • Hillary Swank’s involvement certainly smoothes the way. Remember Swank has as many Oscars as Meryl Streep (if less nominations) and she’s very attractive in addition to being very talented and well-liked.
  • Home 4 the Holidays is a classic feel-good and there’s nothing negative about pet adoption.
  • Also, because of its non-sectarian approach, Home 4 the Holidays can cross boundaries that other pet adoption drives can’t.
  • Finally Home 4 the Holidays is an international effort, and Proctor & Gamble epitomizes the modern multi-national corporation.


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