Is a Lump Sum Donation as Good Transactional Cause Marketing?

Cone’s recent Cause Evolution study found that while transactional cause marketing is still esteemed by consumers, it’s only slightly more so than when a company just makes a lump-sum donation to the cause.

Transactional cause marketing is when the sponsor ties its donation to a purchase.

I posted on the study back in October and while I didn’t quite throw a wet blanket on the idea, I found that part of Cone’s study unpersuasive.

What happens, I wondered, if the charitable donation is in-kind? Does the company’s halo shine just as brightly as if they donated cash? What if the in-kind donation comes in the form of shared ad space?

That seems to be what’s happening in this ad for vitamin D supplements from GNC and in support of the Melanoma Research Alliance. The Alliance funds research into melanoma, which kills right around 9,000 Americans every year. The great Bob Marley died of melanoma at the tender age of 36. GNC sells supplements and nutritional products at mall stores.

The ad comes from the November 2010 issue of Real Simple magazine. The copy is about supplementing your diet with vitamin D, a vitamin vital to good health. There’s plenty of vitamin D available to all of us. Our body synthesizes vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight.

But nowadays, under the advice of physicians, many Americans tend to cover up in sunscreen before going outside, thereby inhibiting the body's production of vitamin D. GNC sells vitamin D supplements, so they’ve got a dog in this fight.

While GNC has engaged in numerous corporate charitable donations and cause marketing campaigns, it doesn’t seem to be donating money to the Melanoma Research Alliance. Here’s how the MRA’s President Wendy K.D. Selig positioned their relationship in an open letter dated October 15, 2010.
"I am pleased to announce that MRA has joined with General Nutrition Center (GNC) in working to generate resources and increase awareness to fight melanoma. Jointly we will be delivering an important message to the public: you don’t need to put yourself at risk of deadly skin cancer to get an adequate supply of vitamin D. We are teaming up to educate the public about melanoma and ways to reduce risk, including avoiding dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays (from the sun and from indoor tanning), and knowing and regularly examining your skin. Through online tools, print publications and other outreach efforts, we expect to reach millions of people with this important information."
It’s an important message, to be sure. But does sharing space in magazine ads with a cause stimulate the same kind of good will towards a sponsor that a good ole’ transactional cause marketing campaign does?

I’d love to see someone undertake that study.

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