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Adding a MacGuffin to Your Cause Marketing Effort

Alfred Hitchcock, the legendary filmmaker, used to speak of a movies’ “MacGuffin” or plot device. “In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers,” he said.

In short, a MacGuffin is a mechanical device that impels action. At left Humphrey Bogart is holding the MacGuffin that impelled action in John Huston’s classic movie The Maltese Falcon.

For Hitchcock, the MacGuffin was often no more than a device, one that he often neglected after the action got going. But I don’t use the term MacGuffin in such a fleeting way. When I use the word I mean, what in your cause marketing campaign will make the target audience act?

At first blush you might say that the cause or perhaps the offer is the MacGuffin. In the aftermath of the Haiti Earthquake, cause marketing campaigns sprouted up spontaneously and they worked. The cause was the MacGuffin.

The same could probably be said of several breast cancer charities and one or two environmental charities; the cause by itself impels action.

But not every charity that warrants a cause marketing campaign has enough punch, by itself, to impel action.

What might the MacGuffin be for charities like that?

It might be celebrity involvement. Superstar singer Christina Aguilera brings a lot of young people to the World Food Programme who might not otherwise pay attention to a cause like that. Same with Alicia Keyes and her charity work on behalf of Keep a Child Alive.

Feeding America’s had a awareness-raising campaign promoted by husband and wife Laila Ali and Curtis Conway with a MacGuffin built into it. The campaign, which used social media to call attention to the hunger crisis, had a sweepstakes component. The MacGuffin is that the sweepstakes winner got to personally present a check for $10,000 to their local food bank.

The MacGuffin could be the media component of the campaign. That, along with all the celebrities and breadth of scope, is the MacGuffin of the expansive RED campaign.

Now, a MacGuffin is no guarantee of success; not every Hitchcock film was a critical or popular success. Nor does the absence of a MacGuffin ensure failure.

But if your cause marketing campaign or social marketing effort is missing a MacGuffin, it will probably underperform. In other words, even if you have a cause that you think will pull just fine and an offer that your target market will likely respond to, you still may not be done.

You may need a MacGuffin, too.

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