Cool Cause Marketing Campaign. But Where's the MacGuffin?

Right now Clif Bar invites you to give up your car for your daily commute and ride a bike instead in a promotion called the 2Mile Challenge. When you do so, and log your bike miles online or by smartphone, Clif enters you in a drawing for a $100,000 donation to be split among three charities dedicated to bike advocacy and/or climate change. The exact donation split will be based on participation rates.

In the promotion Clif maps the $100,000 donation to a goal of replacing 100,000 car trips with bike trips. The 2Mile Challenge maps to the fact that most urban car trips in the United States are less than 2 miles. If just ten percent of urban car trips were made by bike instead of car CO2 emissions would be reduced by 25.4 million tons per year in the U.S.

There’s prizes for participants, game-like sub-challenges from co-sponsors like Outside magazine (seen at the left), mechanisms to invite and involve friends, a Twitter and Facebook component, and fun explanatory videos. In short, Clif hasn’t missed many tricks here.

Although some of the challenges last for less time, the overall 2Mile Challenge promotion runs May 12 to October 31, 2011, or 172 days. As of yesterday, the counter on the website said that there were only 96 days left to avoid 69,187 car trips. In other words, 44% of the promotion has passed, but only 31% of the goal has been reached.

In short, as of right now the calendar is outracing the goal.

I think that’s because for all the things Clif got right with this promotion, it missed one vital thing and that’s a ‘MacGuffin.’

As I’ve written before, Alfred Hitchcock, the legendary filmmaker, used to speak of a movie’s MacGuffin or plot device. “In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers,” he said.

A MacGuffin, therefore, is a mechanical device that impels action. In John Huston’s classic movie The Maltese Falcon, the falcon itself is the MacGuffin.

For Hitchcock, the MacGuffin was often no more than a device, one that he often neglected after the action got going. But I don’t use the term MacGuffin in such a fleeting way. When I use the word I mean, what in your cause marketing campaign will make the target audience act?

At first blush you might say that the cause or perhaps the offer is the MacGuffin. In the aftermath of the Haiti Earthquake, for instance, cause marketing campaigns sprouted up spontaneously and they worked. The cause was the MacGuffin.

The same could probably be said of several breast cancer charities and one or two environmental charities; the cause by itself impels action.

But not every charity that warrants a cause marketing campaign has enough punch, by itself, to impel action.

I think that’s the case here. The 2Mile Challenge charities, while no doubt respectable and upstanding, just don’t have enough clout, in and of themselves, to really make people want to act.

For its part Clif should have recognized this and added its own MacGuffin.

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