Cause Marketing: The Offer You Can Refuse

So insidious, wretched, low-down, and invidious are the techniques of cause marketing that they should be banned for use by soft drink companies, argues a staff attorney for the advocacy group The Public Health Advocacy Institute in an article published on the PHAI website titled “Organizations that Care About Health Should Play No Part in the Soft Drink Industry’s Effort to Rehabilitate Its Public Image.”

After citing the many cause marketing successes from Coke and Pepsi, author Cara Wilking concludes: “Organizations that care about health should establish a policy that identifies and distinguishes between traditional business relationships, corporate philanthropy and cause-marketing and should commit to not participate in cause-marketing campaigns that promote products, such as sugary drinks, that pose a public health threat.”

What Ms. Wilking would have us believe is that cause marketing is irresistible. A kind of catnip that we mere mortals can't begin to say no to. Hence, it should be banned whenever the catnip is associated with a product that's bad for us.

Tell that to Sigg Switzerland USA, the U.S. distributor for Sigg bottles, which filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 in May 2011.

The Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database has samples of cause marketing efforts from Sigg as recently as 2009. For instance the ad at the left from Sigg promotes a cause marketing campaign from Sigg meant to build rainwater collection tanks for schoolchildren in Africa in an effort from the Jane Goodall Institute.

Another ad featured Yvon Chouinard, founder of the company Patagonia as well as the environmental organization 1% for the Planet. Buy a Sigg bottle and $5 went to 1% for the Planet.

The reason Sigg Switzerland USA is now bankrupt is because the company repeatedly insisted that the plastics which line its aluminum bottles weren’t made with BPA, a toxin.

Trouble is, they were. Sigg lied and faced numerous lawsuits, including class action lawsuits. People and companies lost trust, notably Chouinard's Patagonia. Sigg bottles, which have always been expensive relative to competitors, went into a death spiral.

So my response to Ms. Wilking is that while cause marketing is effective when done correctly, it’s not a silver bullet or special voodoo. No one loses their sense of free will when they see a cause marketing offer. Done right it will make offers more compelling. But it doesn't make for offers you can't refuse.

Nobody has to drink Coke or Pepsi products, any more than someone has to use a Sigg bottle to drink water from, all the cause marketing in the world notwithstanding.

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