Should Cause Marketing Campaigns Run Year-Round?

If you’re the kind of person who wishes that every day could be like the first day of spring or that Christmas music would play all year long then has Lee, the apparel maker, got a cause marketing campaign for you.

The ad at the left was in the April 2011 issue of women’s magazine Redbook. The next Lee National Denim Day is Friday, October 7, 2011, a full six months from tomorrow. Lee runs these ads…heck, it runs this very ad… about six months out of the year in women's and other magazines.

Lee National Denim Day is a fine and well-promoted cause marketing campaign that dates to 1996. In the years since the campaign has generated more than $83 million for breast cancer research. You could hardly do better than to learn the lessons this smart campaign can teach.

But to repeat the question in the headline, is it smart to plug a one-day effort year round?

There’s actually not many campaigns that run 12 months a year, with Campbell’s Labels for Education, General Mills’ Boxtops for Education, and Product (RED) (more or less) being notable exceptions.

Jerry Welsh, who pioneered cause marketing at American Express almost 30 years ago told me in an interview, “I am wary of permanent promotions. Permanent promotion is a classic case of oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. A permanent promotion is almost always a simple addition to the routine cost of marketing.”

Year-round cause promotions are hard to sustain. People lose interest. You risk cause fatigue in your target markets. You could actually lose impetus by keeping your campaign always on.

But let's make the case for letting campaigns stay on. There are light bulbs that have never been turned off that have shone for decades without burning out. One in Bay Area has been shining for 110 years. Part of what kills light bulbs is all the turning on and off. Maybe keeping a cause campaign going year-round keeps it in fine fettle.

For its part, Lee would likely say that one of the reasons they do it this way is because the way the National Denim Day works is for you to put together a team at work. A team coordinator asks colleagues at work to participate by paying $5 to wear denim on National Denim Day. Then she or he collects and submits the funds.

That said, the teams aren’t at all equivalent to something like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training where you get a whole team of people to train for five months and then participate in some marathon athletic event.

Moreover, once National Denim Day is over and the funds have been collected and submitted there’s not much else for anyone to do until the following year.

There’s no arguing with National Denim Day’s success. But could anyone else pull of a year-round cause promotion? Should they even try? Weigh in below with your opinion.

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