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Easter Cause Marketing

Let’s try a cause marketing thought experiment.

Suppose you’re a dominant retail player in a growing $30 billion segment. Suppose your founder and CEO was ranked number 147 on the 2011 Forbes list of richest Americans, with an estimated net worth of some $2.5 billion. Suppose you had 435 outlets in 35 heartland states. Suppose you have your own in-house ad agency and a history of advertising both weekly specials along with image campaigns that you run on certain holidays.

Now suppose your company is avowedly Christian and everybody knows it.

Should you do Christian-themed cause-related marketing? If yes, who would your partners be?

This thought was sparked by the ad above placed on Easter Sunday in newspapers all over its service area by Hobby Lobby, the privately-held retailer founded and owned by David Green, age 69.

Since confession is good for the soul, let me confess that I’ve never seen cause marketing in my local Hobby Lobby store.

But the ad… which hearkens back a time 35 years ago when every newspaper in America would print a Christian sermon on Easter Sunday… made me wonder if Hobby Lobby could or should do Christian cause marketing.

A few more pertinent facts. Hobby Lobby is one of the few retailers of its size in America that still observes the traditions of the blue laws and doesn’t open its stores on Sunday. Another avowedly Christian retailer, fast food chain Chick-fil-A, still observes blue law traditions as well.

Hobby Lobby's Statement of Purpose includes the following:
"Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.

"Offering our customers an exceptional selection and value.

"Serving our employees and their families by establishing a work environment and company policies that build character, strengthen individuals, and nurture families.

"Providing a return on the owners' investment, sharing the Lord's blessings with our employees, and investing in our community.

"We believe that it is by God's grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured. He has been faithful in the past, we trust Him for our future."
Hobby Lobby lists on its website the ministries it supports among them the Bible translation charity Wycliffe, Oral Roberts University, and a "Christ-centered boarding school" for troubled kids called Harbor House.

Finally, Hobby Lobby gets so many requests for help from charities and worthy individuals and institutions that it feels compelled to post this disclaimer on its website:
"Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. would like to be able to donate to all of the wonderful communities, ministries and organizations in our area. However, due to the over ten thousand requests that we receive yearly, this is just not a possibility. Because of this, Hobby Lobby has decided to give a special 10% discount on merchandise sold to churches, schools and national charitable organizations when they purchase items with an organizational check or credit card. Please see your local store manager in regards to obtaining this discount."
Given all this, could or should Hobby Lobby take on Christian cause marketing relationships and campaigns in their stores?

I think they could, but they’d have to be very careful about what the promoted products are and who their charity partners are. Otherwise there could be some denominational problems. As for prospective charity partners it seems to me that their best bet might be international relief and organizations, since Christian relief has such a strong and well-known record abroad. That said, Hobby Lobby does not have a history of relationships with relief organizations, Christian or not.

But should they? My answer is yes again, if it’s right. Hobby Lobby’s statement of purpose includes operating on Biblical principles like charity and strengthening employee’s lives. The right cause marketing campaign could do both.

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