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Cause Marketing on Packaging

Cause marketing with consumer packaged goods often takes place on packaging.

While companies are sometimes loathe to forgo this valuable real estate, it’s almost always the case that the campaign sponsor and cause both benefit most when the packaging explains the campaign well. Remember the wise words from our friends in direct marketing: “tell more, sell more.”

In fact, I once undertook a study of higher value food items on store shelves for a client. What I found was that more expensive or high cachet food items had, on average, more than 20% words on their packaging than did less expensive substitute items. High cachet items were more likely to tell a story or include a narrative of some kind.

The packaging items from the Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database, all circa 2002-2004, illustrate my point.

Blue Sky Soda sells in natural food stores. I picked up this can at Whole Foods. Blue Sky, owned by the larger soda purveyor Hansen’s, is kind of the Shasta of natural sodas. That is, it’s value-priced. A 2¼ x ½ inch paragraph of explanation on the side panel… laid out so that you have to turn the can to read it… explains the campaign thusly:
“Blue Sky will donate 10 cents to American Rivers for every Blue Sky soda blue can tab received by October 31, 2002 (up to $15,000). Carefully remove blue can tabs and mail to: Blue Sky – American Rivers Fund, 1010 Railroad St, Corona, CA 92882. Join Blue Sky to help protect and preserve America’s Rivers. To get involved call 877-4RIVERS or visit

Blue Sky is currently doing a Save Tabs, Save Pets campaign benefiting Foundation and set up almost exactly the same. The major difference is that now the donation is 5 cents per pull tab.

Contrast the Blue Sky can with the explanation from corporate parent Hansen’s for its pull tab campaign benefiting City of Hope Breast Cancer Research. Hansen’s doesn’t give the City of Hope in more words than Blue Sky gives American Rivers. But instead of just a few cubic inches, Hansen’s gives up something close to 1/6th of the can’s surface area to explain the campaign. And the portrait-style layout means it’s meant to be seen and read.

Likewise, this effort from Dairy Queen benefiting Children’s Miracle Network offers up only the logo. Even in 2002 (or thereabouts) when I picked up this Blizzard cup, Dairy Queen had already donated tens of millions of dollars over the years to Children’s Miracle Network. Strange, then, that they couldn’t afford even 10 words of explanation. Why even bother with just Children’s Miracle Network’s logo alone and without context?

Compare the Dairy Queen cup with this carton of Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla for a Change. The back explains that the vanilla for the ice cream is sourced at fair prices from small-scale farmers in Indonesia whose farming practices are more sustainable. By buying Ben & Jerry’s you’re supporting small vanilla farmers.

As with the Hansen’s can, Ben & Jerry’s gives up a substantial amount of its packaging real estate to the cause.

The take home is this: When you decide to turn over some of your packaging to a cause, make sure it’s enough to help the cause tell its story. Otherwise you’re truly wasting the precious packaging real estate.


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