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Democratized Cause Marketing With a Lower Price of Entry

American Express has its Member’s Project and Pepsi has Pepsi Refresh, both of which award millions of dollars in prizes and cost perhaps two to three times as much to activate, promote and administer. But can smaller sponsors do this voter-driven democratized cause marketing in a way that is both in reach and effective?

One sponsor that’s trying is Redwood Creek, a wine brand owned by Frei Bros Vineyards of Modesto, California, with its promotion called the Great Outdoors Project.

The Great Outdoors Project awards a top prize of $50,000 to a nonprofit organization “to use towards specific environmental projects that aim to preserve, protect and provide access to the great American outdoors.” $90,000 more is split between nine other finalists.

So figure that Redwood Creek is into this $140,000 in prizes and perhaps another $420,000, give or take to activate and administer the promotion. That’s perhaps $560,000 total. Not inexpensive, but certainly within reach for companies that do as little as $5 million or so in business and which spends 12-15 percent of sales on marketing.

The 2010 winner was the Arizona Trail Association to help reconstruct a portion of the Arizona Trail, a trail that stretches across the State from Mexico to Utah. The 2009 winner was the Friends of New Orleans City Park.

I’ve never been able to wholly embrace these voter-driven cause marketing campaigns.

I like the idea of the democracy inherent in them. But it’s possible to cheat on the contests and there’s something unseemly about asking charities to so blatantly compete against each other. And I say that knowing full well that charities compete against each other every day.

These kinds of voter-driven efforts also illustrate the classic ‘Matthew Effect.’ That is, the rich tend to get richer and the poor tend to get poorer. Think about it. Two nonprofit organizations both have good, if different ideas, about how to spend Pepsi Refresh money. Only one of the organizations also has a database of 150,000 email addresses and the capability of reaching out to them. Which one is likely to get more online votes?

Still, if you’re in the market for a voter-driven cause marketing campaign, Redwood Creek offers an intriguing example to model your campaign on that doesn’t require millions of dollars.

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