Cause Marketing Last Year's Prom Dress

Every year tens of thousands of teens go to the prom and when it’s done the boys take their tuxes back to the rental shop and the girls tuck their prom dresses into the back of their closets.

A number of grassroots organizations have sprung up to get prom, quinceañera and other special occasion dresses out of the closets and on to the backs of girls who might not otherwise be able to afford a fancy dress for their special night. Hearst, the publisher of Seventeen magazine, has a website called Donatemydress.org, to serve as a kind of national information clearinghouse for girls looking to donate or receive donations of special occasion dresses.

As far as causes go, passing on prom dresses to girls who can’t afford them isn’t exactly curing cancer or feeding the hungry. But it is a wonderfully romantic idea. And I don’t mean romantic in the sense of horny teens in the back seat of a limo. I mean it in the sense of idealism.

It’s exactly the kind of idea that might really catch hold in one area of the country, but struggle in another. In short, it’s so grassroots, by itself it defies being turned into a national effort. Donatemydress.org lists 16 organizations that accept and distribute special occasion dress donations. But by placing itself in a different role and partnering with all the dress donation causes, Donatemydress.org can insert itself and become the de facto national cause.

In fact, Hearst goes one step further and offers instruction not only on how to donate a dress, but a guidebook on how to start a dress drive in your town.

What does Hearst get out of all this?

Well donatemydress.org is part of Hearst Teen Network, which combined gets three million unique visitors a month, according to the website. Alexa rates donatemydress.org as #307,789 in the United States, a little bit ahead of the Alexa ratings for the cause marketing blog.

So while donatemydress.org has advertising on it... meaning Hearst’s sale staff has a little extra inventory to sell, or to give away to valued advertisers... by itself it’s probably not a super valuable site for ad sales.

But I suspect the real value to Hearst is as a branding effort. Better than anyone, Seventeen, knows how hard it is to keep your brand in front of teenage girls, thousands of whom leave their audience every single year. A romantic cause like donating your prom dress to girls who couldn’t otherwise be able to afford them helps keep Seventeen relevant to the rising generation of kids who want to better their world.

Even if all that means is leaving the world a little better dressed at the prom.

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