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The Worst Cause Marketing of 2011

Pathology, that is trying to figure out what went wrong, is both fun and entertaining. Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the CSI franchise on television among many other production credits, personally made $113 million! in 2011 thanks in part to our fascination with the pathology of crime.

Even when it comes to cause marketing this fascination with the bad is strong. Many more people find the Cause Marketing Blog because they searched on ‘bad cause marketing’ and similar search terms than found it by searching for ‘good cause marketing’ and equivalent terms. Yesterday's post, was my annual list of the best cause marketing of 2011.

You asked for it, so here it is listed in order of the date of the original post; The 10 Worst Cause Marketing Efforts of 2011:
  • Faux Cause Marketing Ad From Groupon Bombs on Super Bowl. After watching Groupon’s first Super Bowl ad campaign, all I could do was scratch my head and ask; “Holy crap, what was Groupon thinking?” They ran two ads: one started out looking like an homage to the people and culture of Tibet and it turns out to be actor Timothy Hutton looking smarmy and paying half price at a Chicago Tibetan restaurant thanks to Groupon. The second ad with a save the whales theme and featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. was no better.) Groupon’s Tibet ad somehow managed to be tasteless, inane, and insulting at the same time. The airtime alone costs $3 million in the high-stakes world of Super Bowl advertising. But that’s the smallest cost to Groupon. Instead the private company just erased millions of dollars in brand equity in one 30-second ad. This was faux cause marketing at its most reckless.
  • This Paper Icon Effort Didn't Exactly Bowl Me Over. A paper icon effort at a bowling alley in my market made me wonder who could have launched this ill-conceived effort. What was wrong with it? How to count the ways: • There was no indication of the benefiting charity and no explanation on the back, although I learned later it was issued by the local Susan G. Komen for the Cure chapter. • At 10 inches high it was bigger than it needed to be and required an expensive custom die-cut. • The layout and typefaces made it look cheap. • When paper icons are shaped after the sponsor rather than the cause, as in this one shaped like a bowling pin, it usually strikes me as being too self-referential to the sponsor and self-defeating. In this way the halo is reflecting light from the sponsor to the cause, rather than the cause to the sponsor.
  • Do These Anti-Teenage Pregnancy Advocacy Ads Really Work? Who Knows? Advocacy ads from The Candies Foundation, featuring Bristol Palin and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, among others, aimed to “shape the way youth in America think about teen pregnancy and parenthood.” Candies, for whom the Foundation is named, is a teen fashion brand. But watching them made me wonder if they don’t have a counter-effect. I know of a former smoker, for instance, who can’t watch certain movies because the sexy way smoking is portrayed therein makes him crave the wicked weed again. One medical researcher’s study confirms in part that anecdote. The Foundation’s website says that since 2001, Candie’s Foundation ads generated more than 500 million media impressions. A very large number indeed. The website also claims that teen girls who have been exposed to the Foundation’s campaigns see the negatives of teen pregnancy and parenthood more so than teen girls who haven’t seen the campaigns. Certainly I’m glad for that. But what I really wish the Foundation could claim is that teen girls who are exposed to the campaign are any less likely to get pregnant. I, for one, have my doubts.
  • Catty Faux Cause Marketing from Church and Dwight. In my ongoing effort to identify and root out faux cause marketing I came across this ad from Church & Dwight, makers of Arm & Hammer baking soda products, including Feline Pine kitty litter.The ad depicts militant beret-wearing cats fronted by ‘Che Gato,’ paws of fury raised against clay kitty litter, and the attendant dust, perfumes, and harsh chemicals. Che Gato is even looking left of the camera's perspective, like the iconic picture of Che Guevara. And that’s where the faux cause marketing comes into play. There’s a website with a dot-org extension; Now any of us could go and register an available dot-org extension. It’s not like ICANN, the official registrar of top-level Internet domain extensions, checks anyone’s nonprofit bona fides before allowing someone to register a dot-org domain name. That said, there’s a widespread expectation that a dot-org extension means that the website is for the public good. But sends you directly to the product’s regular URL. Che Gato notwithstanding, there’s no revolution here. Just faux cause marketing.
  • Heidi Klum, Cancer Pin-Up Girl. Actress, supermodel, TV producer, philanthropist, and mother of four Heidi Klum wants you to buy the hoodie off her back to benefit StandUp2Cancer, the telethon and charity. The hooded sweatshirt retails on the STU2C website for $46.99 and features versions of its logo on front and back. Klum, of course, is lovely and talented and STU2C is an admirable, innovative and hard-pressing cause. STU2C has always struck me as a charity in a hurry, and I like that about them. Cancer has bedeviled the world for too long as far as I'm concerned. But I’m always little chary when causes use sex to sell. Why? How does STU2C know whether it’s the sex appeal or the cause that’s working on people? Plus, there’s just something too weird about cancer pin-up girls.

  • Justin Bieber’s Cause Marketing Should Be More Bieberiffic.Canadian teen heartthrob Justin Bieber wants you to buy his new perfume line called Someday, and when you do all net profits “after taxes, royalties, expenses and company requirements are deducted” will go to Pencils of Promise, a school-building charity and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It’s hard to say whether or not Bieber is making any scratch on this deal. Royalties is one way celebrities make money from endorsements. But I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt. However, in the wake of a $5 million class-action lawsuit filed in June 2011 against Lady Gaga for the way she sold a special bracelet meant to benefit Japan earthquake relief, the fact is Bieber and Give Back Brands need to be a little more transparent here. Bieber’s rabid fans probably don’t care require an exact breakdown of the transaction, but for the sake of prudence Bieber needs to be more precise. The fact of the matter is that Paul Newman, the first celebrity to build his own “all benefits company,” set a very high standard of probity and frankness with ‘Newman’s Own.’ And both regular folks and the blood-sucking lawyers who filed suit against Lady Gaga expect model behavior from celebrities.
  • Respecting Your Cause Marketing Partner. From Freschetta, the bake-at-home pizza brand found in your grocer’s freezer case, came this pink ribbon cause marketing campaign that seemed ashamed of its esteemed non-profit partner. Here’s the campaign: when you bought pink-beribboned packages of Freschetta pizza products, Schwan Food Company, the brand's owner, donated $1 up to $50,000 total to guess who? You almost have to guess because the type is so small in this FSI (Free-Standing Insert) you might not be able to read it without the help of artificial magnification. It's only slightly better on Freschetta's website, which requires an extra click behind the mention of the campaign on the home page to find out who it benefits. In fact, with the aid of magnification and good strong light, I can report that the ad says the donation is headed towards Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, one of the most respected hospitals and cancer research facilities in the world. So why so little respect of its nonprofit partner from Schwan?

  • Cause Marketing from Dillard's That Doesn't Exactly Fit. Dillard’s, the department store chain, had a cause marketing effort benefiting Feeding America last year that hit all the high points, until… cue the record scratch sound-effect… it didn’t. What did Dillard’s do right? It’s a pretty good list. First off Dillard’s choose a venerable cause marketing partner, Feeding America, which has an accomplished record in cause marketing and a vitally important mission. At $2 per transaction, the donation amount is generous. The promotion itself was activated through this ad in my local newspaper.There was a QR code in the ad that leads to a video about Feeding America’s Give a Meal holiday campaign, so check off that cool tactical implementation. Dillard’s, which has about 300 stores across most of the country, specifically states that the total donation amount is as much as the value of $40,000 in meals, so mark off the transparency checkmark, too. So far, so good. But here’s where Dillard’s stumbled, the promotion in question is for bras, shapewear, sleepwear, and other lingerie items. Like I said, cue the record scratch sound-effect. What do well-fitting bra and panties have to do with hunger? Darned if I could guess.
  • Towards a More Hygienic Cause Marketing Campaign for Lysol. The Lysol brand disinfectant Blue Ribbon Attendance Challenge awarded $25,000 in prizes to the school with the highest average attendance from November 1 to 30, 2011. If you’re like me it took me a couple of beats to understand what school attendance has to do with Lysol. But even after I got it the Lysol Challenge didn’t seem to do all the things Lysol needs it to do. What Lysol really needs out of this effort is to generate good buzz for a brand that’s pretty stale. What part of anything I’ve described above would you Tweet or post on your Facebook or Tumblr page? Part of the problem is the donation amount. Total prizes of $25,000 just can’t be taken seriously in a country with more than 90,000 elementary schools! But by itself a better and fairer prize package wouldn’t make you more likely to Tweet out the Lysol Blue Ribbon Attendance Challenge either. Imagine in addition to better prizes some kind of contest asking schools to produce a small play that depicts germ-free hygiene in schools, and open up divisions for middle schools, junior and high schools. Naturally videos of the plays would end up on YouTube. In fact, YouTube oughta be the official entry vehicle for the contest. Call it the Lysol Blue Ribbon Video Challenge. And, of course, thousands of videos would be publicity fodder for Lysol and its PR agency, who would pitch this story to media outlets wherever schools enter the Challenge.
  • Stealing Your Competitor's Cause Marketing Approach. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then TOMS Shoes must be beaming with pride. Skechers a brand of shoes that occupies the vast middle range of pricing and quality offers a line called, I kid you not, BOBS, which promises to give a new pair of shoes to a needy child when you bought a Shoe Carnival gift card valued at $25 or more through Dec. 24. TOMS, of course, did more than anyone to popularize this buy one, give one approach (BOGO) by giving away a free pair of TOMS Shoes to a needy child in the developing world every time you buy a pair. I don’t think TOMS would complain about other companies lifting the BOGO approach. But for a direct competitor to do so with a similar name (I mean, c’mon, BOBS?) comes off as underhanded.


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