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The Innie vs The Outie in Cause Marketing

Is cause marketing better on the inside or outside of packaging? That’s what I wondered when I saw this chocolate bar at Whole Foods.

In an aisle of chocolate bars that were $6, $7, $8 and even $9, I bought the Whole Foods candy bar based mostly on price; it was less than $3. It was organic, dark chocolate and had almonds, three hot buttons for me. When I unwrapped it I found the cause marketing message you see below

My first reaction was, “why wouldn’t they at least tease the donation to the Whole Foods Foundation on the outside of the wrapper?”

You'd assume that Whole Foods wants to maximize sales. And given the likelihood that their margins are higher on a $3 house brand than a super-premium bar like Amano or Vosges, you gotta believe they’d rather sell three of these candy bars than one $9 Vosges with bacon, right?

But the more I thought about it the plainer it became to me that Whole Foods really does know how to cause market.

In their book ‘Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive’ authors Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin (but not that Steve Martin), and Robert Cialdini talk about a cause marketing experiment they did meant to encourage hotel guests to reuse their bath towels.

They tried multiple messaging approaches. With regard to messaging that included a cause marketing element they found it was much more effective to tell guests that a donation to an environmental cause was made in honor of their recycling towels than to tie the donation directly to the number of towels guests reused.

I think that’s part of what Whole Foods is doing here.

The other part has to do with the calculus that people do when their standing in the chocolate aisle at Whole Foods. I’d certainly like to try a Vosges' bar with bacon at some point. But if I didn’t like it enough to finish it then I’m out $9. I’m too cheap to be that adventurous.

I suspect that many of the people who stand in that aisle parse it out similar ways.

The aisle is loaded with colorful packaging that would stand out anywhere else in the store. Amano's packaging, for instance, looks like fine art. There are several options that use cause marketing, notably the brand Endangered Species. Many make claims about being organic or Fair Trade sourced or both.

In short, in the chocolate aisle at Whole Foods the house brand is only going to stand out based on price. Including a message about giving 1 percent, or approximately $0.03, just isn’t going to cut it on that aisle.

But by tucking the message inside the candy wrapper, Whole Foods seems less like they’re trying to sell it and more like they’re making a nice donation to a worthy cause.

Very savvy.

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