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The Importance of the Match in Cause Marketing

In an interview yesterday a reporter asked me why the match between the cause and sponsor is so vital in cause marketing. After all, what if a local welding shop in a small town was doing some kind of cause marketing for the local school. Wouldn’t that be affinity enough?

My response went something like this: If you live a place where everyone knows your name it’s OK if the match between your firm and the cause is imperfect. People know your heart and are willing to give you a pass, whether or not they understand your cause marketing promotion.

But if you live in a population center where not everyone you do business with is an acquaintance, then the match between your company and the cause matters a lot.

My theory is that people just aren’t willing to invest the psychic energy it takes to figure out a lose affiliation between your company and the cause.

The ad at the left from Fortune magazine is a case in point.

The daredevil billionaire Sir Richard Branson, whose net worth is an estimated $4.2 billion, makes an implied endorsement for Bulova Accutron (a company he doesn’t apparently own) and is donating his appearance fee to Virgin Unite, Virgin’s nonprofit foundation.

Is there anyone within the reach the Internet’s electrons that believes that Sir Richard Branson has strapped on a $500 Bulova watch at any time in the last 30 years except during the photo shoot for this ad? A billionaire or other powerful person might choose to wear a $40 Timex Ironman watch. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton famously did. But a $500 watch? It's doubtful.

Simply put, while Sir Richard might have the psychic energy to pick out a Swiss Made Roger DuBois Excalibur for a cool $550,000, it’s hard to imagine him spending any amount of time picking out a suitable Bulova, even if it’s also Swiss made.

But let’s bring this home a little more.

Bulova’s ad here might be called ‘glancing blow’ cause marketing. Branson donates his fee to a cause that bears his company’s name.

Beyond what I've just said, do you care to figure out the ever-so-slight link between Bulova and Virgin Unite? Does that link influence your decision in any way to buy a Bulova or not?

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