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Lessons from 4 Big, Successful Single-Element Cause Marketing Campaigns

There are a handful of big ‘single-element' cause marketing campaigns that have been around for decades, and in their longevity they hold lessons for cause marketers everywhere. Today I'll review four of the very best and discuss what we can learn from them.

First some caveats.

I'm going to list four campaigns not because there are only four, but because any more than that would make this post unwieldy. Three-fourths of them are North American because frankly, I'm most familiar with them. The fourth... Red Nose Day... is from the UK. That's some of their publicity material on the left

If you have examples from somewhere else that should be on this list, by all means leave a comment or email me at aldenkeene @ gmail dot com. I'd love to feature campaigns from other places.

Here's how I determined my list. I looked at large-scale campaigns that have been around for at least 10 years, have broad appeal and have raised at least $50 million over their term.

I eliminated all the walks, runs, bike-a-thons, etc. Although those kinds of campaigns frequently have cause marketing elements, they are best characterized as events. Likewise I haven't counted multiple-element campaigns like the Red Dress program, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Thanks and Giving from St. Jude, and the RED campaign.

I'm highlighting only campaigns with a single main element. Because like a single malt whiskey (I'm told), or a single-source chocolate, these single-element campaigns have a purity in their concentration and focus; you're only getting one thing. Having only one major element also makes it easier for me to parse out the lessons.

Without further ado here are four world-beating, large-scale, long-standing, big-money cause marketing campaigns:
  1. Campbell’s Labels for Education campaign. In more 30 years Campbell’s Labels for Education has provided in excess of $110 million in school supplies and merchandise. Currently, 60,000 schools and organizations in the U.S. are registered with Label’s for Education benefiting some 42 million kids. More than 250 items among Campbell’s brands… Prego, Pepperidge Farm, V8, Swanson, & Franco American, and some of Campbell’s food service brands… carry a point value of one five or ten points. People are encouraged to bring the required part of the label to a local school. At the school employee or volunteer combines the labels. An online 51-page catalog lists the items available along with the required points. A student snare drum kit is 23,300 points. A DVD player is 4,400 points. A full-size basketball is 1,000 points.
  2. General Mills Box Tops for Education. Labels for Education is plainly the model for General Mills’ Box Tops for Education. But General Mills expanded and improved on the concept. Consequently, in just over 15 years General Mills has given away $340 million to American schools. In the Box Tops campaign the values are standardized… every boxtop is worth 10 cents… and hundreds of General Mills’ products are eligible. Some 95,000 schools participate. In 2005 non-competing brands from other companies joined the program. A number of products from Bic are also now part of Campbell’s Label’s for Education program. One of the most notable improvements General Mills has over the Campbell’s program is that Box Tops rewards cash rather than merchandise.
  3. US Postal Service Breast Cancer Semipostal Stamps. The enormously successful breast cancer research stamps literally required a change in U.S. law. Before the 1997 change in law it was unlawful for the US Post Office to charge more than the face value of a stamp. The Breast Cancer Stamps are sold for 55 cents and are valid for a one ounce first class envelope. That’s currently 11 cents more than a regular first class stamp. Through the September 2010 approximately $896 million in breast cancer stamps have been sold generating more than $71 million for two Federal research agencies: the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense Medical Research Program.
  4. Red Nose Day in the UK. Started in 1988 by Comic Relief, the Red Nose Day is now held every two years. The next one is coming up on Friday, March 18, 2011. People are encouraged to do all kinds of stuff… the sillier the better... to raise money. It culminates in a sort of a telethon that airs that night on BBC. The money is split 60-40 between the needy in Africa and in the UK. BBC underwrites the telethon and corporate sponsors underwrite other costs such that Comic Relief has remained true to its ‘Golden Pound Principle;’ that is, every shilling that’s raised goes to the causes. The Red Nose Day raised more than ₤75 million in 2009.
Fortunes at the Bottom of the Pyramid

All four campaigns are classic examples of ‘the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid’ thinking.

The book of the same name by C.K. Prahalad, who died in April 2010, lays out how technology… and new ways of thinking about customers… can enable companies to deliver products and services of value to the four billion people across the globe who live on less than $2 a day.

In a similar way, these four single-element campaigns raise big money, not by asking for large donations, but by asking for small ones. The US Postal Service Breast Cancer Semipostal Stamp generates just six pennies at a pop! The Box Tops for Education campaign from General Mills just 10 cents.

Needless to say, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom in fundraising which goes something like this: ‘it’s just as much work to ask for a modest donation as a big one, so you might as well ask for a big one.’ In other words, focus on the top of the pyramid.

That’s rational thinking. But it leaves money on the table.

What can we learn from these four world-beating, large-scale, long-standing, big-money, single-element cause marketing campaigns?

At least the following:
  1. Earnestness is fine. But a sense of humor can really help. The Red Nose Day in the U.K. has a very serious mission; alleviating poverty in Africa and helping the disadvantaged in the UK. But Red Nose Day is fun and light-hearted. Even when they show the people being helped, they avoid taking the pity approach.
  2. The best campaigns have a strong media component. Labels for Education is in almost every FSI Campbell’s puts out (see above). Box Tops is on nearly every box that leaves General Mills, year-round. Red Nose Day takes over the BBC programming for an entire night and is promoted on-air before and after Red Nose Day is over. Many US Post Offices perpetually leave up posters for the breast cancer stamp.
  3. Expand your ‘circle of trust.’ General Mills could have been content to keep their campaign entirely in house. Instead they broadened to include other non-competing brands. Ziploc and others like it because they get to participate in a proven campaign at low cost. General Mills likes it because it expands the reach of its Box Tops brand. Schools and students reap the rewards of General Mills outside the box thinking, pun intended.
  4. You may have to move heaven and earth or worse…US Congress… to put your campaign in place. Labels for Education put its whole merchandise catalog online. Box Tops for Education conducts all its business via the Internet, except the shipping of Box Tops. Red Nose Day puts together a monster comedy show on television, plus it suggests dozens if not hundreds of ways for regular folks to do grassroots, plus it has to have in place themed merchandise, drop off points and donation collection procedures. No wonder they only do it every other year. In order for the US Postal Service to charge more than the standard rate for first class postage it literally required an act of Congress.
  5. If the cause has real appeal, you don’t have to offer pricing discounts. When cause marketing is ultimately realized it preserves pricing power. The breast cancer stamp costs more than regular first class postage, not less. And still they’ve sold so many that $52 million has been raised. All you brand managers think about that for a moment. All you charity marketers ask yourself if your brand is that strong.
  6. Big numbers and technology are your friends. The US Postal Service annually prints 35 billion stamps. That’s a big number. There are about 70 million schoolkids in the United States. That’s a big number too. The power at the bottom of the pyramid is the power of large numbers. Technology can help you effectively and efficiently reach down to the bottom of the pyramid. When Campbell’s first started Labels for Education, they had to print and distribute their catalog. No longer. Red Nose Day allows you to make your pledge and fulfill it completely online.

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