Skip to main content

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.


mikeswenson said…
Full disclosure - I am President of Barkley PR/Cause which has been Lee Jeans' PR firm of record for 16 years. We helped create Lee National Denim Day.

While Lee National Denim Day is always a "one day" event, the planning for it is year around. We have to begin to drive participation in the spring and summer in order to have the kind of results we get on the first Friday of October every year. So a subtle inclusion of the Denim Day logo on Lee's product campaigns is a way to remind people of the program.

Not quite as subtle will be our annual summer campaign with our celebrity ambassador. All of this is needed to drive participation so we the kind of participation needed to raise the dollars that go to two specific cancer research projects.

"One day" cause programs like Lee National Denim Day require more than one day of awareness or else they would not be successful.

I welcome a dialogue on this so please don't hesitate to contact me at or simply place a comment here.

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss Denim Day!

Mike Swenson

Popular posts from this blog

Three Ways to Be Charitable

I’ve spent a big chunk of my career working with or for charities. Many of my dearest and ablest friends are in the charity ‘space.’ And the creativity and problem-solving coming out of the nonprofit sector has never been greater.  Although I’ve had numerous nonprofit clients over the last decade or so, I haven’t worked in a charity for about 12 years now, which gives me a certain distance. Distance lends perspective and consequently, I get a lot of people asking me which charities I recommend for donations of money or time. My usual answer is, “it depends.” “On what?” they respond. “On what you want from your charitable activities,” I reply. It sounds like a weaselly consultant kind of an answer, but bear with me for a moment. The English word charity comes from the Latin word caritas and means “from the heart,” implying a voluntary act. Caritas is the same root word for cherish. The Jews come at charity from a different direction. The Hebrew word that is usually rendered as charity is t…

Top Eight Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns of 2007

Yeah, You Read it Right. It's a Top 8 List.

More cause-related marketing campaigns are unveiled every day across the world than I review in a year at the cause-related marketing blog. And, frankly, I don’t see very many campaigns from outside North America. So I won’t pretend that my annual list of the top cause-related marketing campaigns is exhaustive.

But, like any other self-respecting blogger, I won’t let my superficial purview stop me from drawing my own tortured conclusions!

So… cue the drumroll (and the dismissive snickers)… without further ado, here is my list of the eight best cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007.

My list of the worst cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007 follows on Thursday.

Chilis and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
I was delighted by the scope of Chilis’ campaign for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As you walked in you saw the servers adorned in black co-branded shirts. Other elements included message points on the Chilis beverage coas…

Five Steps To Nurture a 30-Year Cause Marketing Relationship

Last Monday, July 22, 2013, March of Dimes released the annual results of its campaign with Kmart... now in its thirtieth year... and thereby begged the question, what does it takes to have a multi-decade cause marketing relationship between a cause and a sponsor?

In the most recent year, Kmart,the discount retailer, donated $7.4 million to the March of Dimes, bringing the 30-year total to nearly $114 million. March of Dimes works to improve the health of mothers and babies.

Too many cause marketing relationships, in my estimation, resemble speed-dating more than long-term marriage. There can be good reasons for short-term cause marketing relationships. But most causes and sponsors benefit more from long-term marriages than short-term hookups, the main benefit being continuity. Cause marketing trades on the trust that people, usually consumers, put in the cause and the sponsor. The longer the relationship lasts the more trust is evidenced.

There's also a sponsor finding cost that…