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Faux Cause Marketing With a Sense of Humor

In the past year I’ve profiled what I call ‘faux cause marketing.’ It’s marketing that looks or sounds like cause marketing, but in fact no cause benefits from it.

At left is a small ad that ran in the back of Golf Digest magazine in October 2009, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There’s the familiar pink ribbon, emblematic of breast cancer causes. But look closely and you’ll see that the company makes no claims about any charity benefiting from the sale of pink ribbon golf club covers.

Although I found the same clubheads on the company’s website, I couldn’t find any evidence of support for breast cancer causes. If indeed the company sells the pink ribbon clubhead covers without any remuneration to breast cancer charities then the ad is unethical in my book and I pronounce a pox on their business.

A kind of faux cause marketing with a sense of humor can be seen from AirTran, the discount airline. Both the two-color ads on the left, which ran in the same issue of Sports Illustrated magazine in January 2010, feature two players from the NFL, although neither their teams, nor the NFL, nor even the game of football is explicitly mentioned.

Instead the ads brilliantly lampoon the kind of marketing and fundraising that a lot of nonprofits, especially children’s charities, specialize in; the deadly-earnest appeal.

AirTran turns nonprofit advertising conventions on their head. The players... Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Super Bowl 45 bound Green Bay Packer wide receiver Donald Driver... both sport faces that border on the melancholy. The headlines and body copy mimic the solemn-sounding (oftentimes soporific) writing common to fundraising appeals.

Says the headline of one: “Attending Even Just One Away Game Per Season Can Make a Difference in an Athlete’s Life.” The other reads: “Last Year, Over 2,500 Athletes Played an Away Game. And You Weren’t There.”

That’s funny!

More than that, I think it’s potentially instructive to people writing appeals for nonprofits. If your copy is as grave and sincere as this ad pretends to be, then part of this satire is directed at you. And rightly so.

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