Making Cause Marketing More Systemic

Coca-Cola has been drawing neutral to positive reviews for its white can promotion benefiting the World Wildlife Fund. Mark me down as neutral to negative, because I don’t think it goes quite fair enough.

Here’s why: Amory Lovins, the slightly heterodox environmental scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute has a new book out called “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era,” wherein he finds that we don’t often enough take a systemic approach to energy and resource conservation. The result is missed opportunity.

I think the same is true in cause marketing.

Here’s the outlines of the promotion as constituted: Starting tomorrow, Nov 1, 2011 through February 2012, Coke will release its flagship product in white cans in order to draw awareness of the plight of the Arctic and the shrinking habitat of the polar bear in particular. Coke has used polar bears in its advertising since 1922.

Coke will donate $1 million to the WWF and asks that Coke drinkers also donate to the WWF via text to donate. To donate $1 to the WWF, text the package code to 357357. Starting tomorrow you can also donate online at

Coke will also match up to another $1 million in such donations. Coke’s total donation could therefore reach $3 million. Coke will also air ads and help sponsor a new IMAX film on the topic called ‘To the Arctic 3D.’

According to the Packaging Digest, “WWF has a vision to help protect the polar bear's Arctic home. This includes working with local residents to manage an area high in the Arctic where the summer sea ice will likely persist the longest. This area—potentially covering 500,000 square miles—could provide a home for the polar bear while protecting the cultural and economic needs of local people.”

The WWF enjoys a good reputation and I expect will make good use of the $3 million mitigating the effects of climate change on polar bear habitat.

But imagine, instead, that in addition to everything else Coke has pledged to do that it also promised to paint white the roofs of all the buildings that it owns or leases.

Most roofs are black and as such they absorb heat and light. White reflects heat and light back into the atmosphere.

Cecil Adams of the syndicated column The Straight Dope put it this way in a column published in April 2010, “according to Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, white-coated roofs can reflect 60 to 85 percent of the solar energy that hits them and stay as little as nine degrees above air temperature. Dark-colored roofs, by contrast, typically reflect 20 percent of sunlight or less, and a black asphalt roof reflects only 5 percent.”

He goes on to write, “a white (or at least light-colored) roof provides two benefits. The first is reduced air conditioning costs, which can drop 15 to 20 percent. The second benefit is more cosmic. A lighter-colored roof will reflect as much as 80 percent of the solar radiation that hits your house back into space. This increases the albedo (reflectivity) of the planet, which could help reduce global warming-surely a worthwhile goal for any home improvement project.”

Coke’s business is basically to produce the syrup for its drinks and market the same. Local bottlers turn that syrup into the actual Coke products that you drink. So I doubt that Coke owns or leases even 1,000 buildings in North America.

But think of what Coke would be able to claim if it painted all its rooftops white. Coke would be saying, in effect, “we’re not just raising awareness of the effects of climate change on our beloved polar bear. We’re doing more than just helping polar bears through our partnership with the WWF. We’re doing our small part to actually increase the reflectivity of the planet.”

Future ads could feature the polar bears on the roof of Coke's headquarters building in Atlanta, cool and comfortable on the all-white roof.

So long as it didn’t over-reach, Coke could legitimately claim that it not only talks the talk, it walks the walk.

That’s a more systemic approach to cause marketing!

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