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We're All Cause Marketers Now

On Monday The New York Times profiled a new cause marketing effort from a maker of healthy snacks and do-gooder Daniel Lubetzky, who owns Kind Healthy Snacks. Lubetzky has a small problem. Some of his competitors, including Snickers Bars from confection giant Mars Incorporated, are also using cause marketing to sell their own snack lines.

The Times reporter, Stuart Elliott, never puts it this directly but the logical question is inescapable. If you're a consumer-facing company with a commitment to cause marketing is it a good thing if your competitors are utilizing cause marketing, too?

All of us who have been involved in cause marketing for more than a decade or so remember that one of our primary sales points to prospects was that cause marketing helps you distinguish your product or service from competitors and gives you a new story to tell customers and the press.

Increasingly that advantage is disappearing.

(The result is a lament like the Gotterdammerung some Americans feel about China’s economic surge over the last two and a half decades. But my response is; the China of 2010 is infinitely better than the China of 1976 (the year Mao died). Certainly China and the Chinese citizenry are better off. On a net level, so too is the United States and the other western democracies.)

Bear in mind that cause marketing still has other advantages:
  • It can directly enhance sales and branding.
  • It can heighten customer loyalty.
  • It can help build employee morale and loyalty.
  • It can help improve employee profitability, skills and teamwork.
  • It can help employee recruiting and retention and build a pipeline of talent.
More cause marketing helps more nonprofits. And the money causes get from cause marketing is more valuable than the money they get from almost any other source because it comes without strings attached.

Would Daniel Lubetzky prefer that Snickers wasn’t doing its cause marketing campaign? Probably.

But the cause marketing genie’s out of the bottle, folks. And we're all cause marketers now.


Ian said…
As the founder of a cause-branded product, we are certainly concerned about this. That's why we've kept our ideas under wraps until launch.

That said, we can't be upset if big brands get into cause marketing. It's good for nonprofits and it's good for society.

Rather than try to differentiate on cause-marketing, we are looking to differentiate from big brands by:

- Being authentic, always
- Cultivating a community of consumers
- Aligning with differentiating nonprofits that are not the same ones a big brand would align with (ie, local, smaller, niche, etc)

I'd love to hear other ways cause-brands can differentiate when their corporate competitors get in the game...
@meganstrand said…
Great post!

It's true that the influx of Cause Marketing is cause for concern for those that have been doing it authentically for a decade but there are benefits to having these large corporations jump on the bandwagon.

1) First of all, pat yourself on the back for being a forward thinker. You've known all along that this is the way to go. Corporate budgets are just now understanding just how important causes are to the consumer. Go you!

2) Authenticity still rules supreme. Who's more compelling? Kind with their "pay it forward" campaign, deeply rooted in the mission of the whole company...or Snickers who has never been about serving causes and never will be? Not to say they can't put together a solid cause campaign, sure they can, but consumers are savvy and can smell an inauthentic campaign a mile away.

3) Game changing. Looking at efforts by brands such as Pepsi (and not just the ReFresh campaign) and hearing just how deeply into the corporate hierarchy this new vision started, I can't help but be impressed and encouraged that, done right, cause marketing is a permanent game-changer.

That said, I think we all agree that littering the marketplace with poorly executed, poorly conceived cause campaigns does everyone a disservice. Hopefully the market will reject those that fall under this description and continue to embrace those that are truly making an impact!
Hi Ian & Megan:

Both of you mention authenticity and I agree.

But imagine a Venn Diagram with three circles. One of the circles is people who are engaged by your company/brand. Another is people who are engaged by the cause. The third is the customer.

Really powerful brands... think Apple, for instance... could bring their fanboys to a cause by themselves.

Likewise causes with great affinity could bring people to companies by themselves.

Elements of the customer or consumer base can be pulled in different ways, but in the broadest level they want good value.

When all three overlap to some degree that's when cause marketing is terrifically successful.

But it can still be successful when only two overlap.

Thanks for your comments, Megan and Ian.

Warm regards,

Feydakin said…
I have an old business mentor that put these sorts of situations in to perfect perspective.. Don't let what your competitors do worry you.. The more you worry about them the less you are focusing on your business and customers..

Would it be great to have an exclusive on cause marketing in a niche? You bet.. Is it likely to happen?? Nope..

I certainly watch what they do, and then adopt their better ideas, but in the end, I focus on what I'm doing..

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