What to Do With Leftover Cause-Branded Merchandise

Not all cause-branded merchandise sells. So what do you do with the leftover inventory?

The Tuesday Morning store in my neighborhood almost always has pink-ribboned kitchen implements from Kitchen Aid that once benefited Susan G. Komen for the Cure but are now selling at a fraction of the original retail price. Tuesday Morning is a deep discount chain of about 850 stores nationwide in the U.S.

Frankly, as a cause marketer it’s slightly embarrassing. Never mind that there’s a whole host of possible reasons… many which have nothing to do the cause… why the merchandise would be remaindered to discounters like Tuesday Morning. Still, much of the point of cause-branded merchandise is that the appeal of the cause helps move the product.

Back in March 2011 the big UK retailer and veteran cause marketer Marks & Spencer offered up men’s underwear designed by six different British sportsmen and benefiting The Prostate Cancer Charity. The original price of the underwear was £15 for a two-pack. Later, on the Marks & Spencer website, the underwear (in limited sizes) was discounted down to £5 after a brief stopover at £10.

A press report said that the promotion generated £60,000 for the charity. Not bad.

But it’s gotta be a shade embarrassing for the four players whose designs have to be discounted… rugby player Jason Leonard, ‘the Fun Bus,’ pretty boy footballer Jamie Redknapp (who's married to pop princess Louise), bad boy snooker player Jimmy White and the classy footballer Les Ferdinand.

In a case like this where there’s a celebrity component, here’s a thought; hold back some of the promotion for later. Promotions… cause marketing and otherwise… tend to be front-loaded and rightfully so. You have to develop the momentum to see you through the promotion and the best way to do that is to go as big as you can right from the get-go.

But the celebrity aspect of this promotion affords Marks & Spencer and The Prostate Cancer Charity an extra arrow in the promotional quiver. Imagine offering up some bragging right to the celebrity whose underwear line sells out first. A press release. A billboard campaign. Facebook bragging rights. Whatever. Then get creative with any of the celebrities whose competitive pride won’t let them finish sixth.

Imagine, for instance, if right before Marks & Spencer was prepared to start discounting, the ‘Fun Bus’ Jason Leonard, started autographing the boxes of his line of Kelly green-colored underwear. Maybe he signs 200 boxes. I’ve watched American baseball players sign 200 baseballs plus another 200 baseball cards in one sitting. So signing 200 underwear boxes wouldn’t be terribly onerous. But instead of offering them first-come, first-served they go randomly to anybody who has paid the full £15.

Or maybe Jamie Redknapp, who along with his wife Louise represent a kind of beer-budget version of David and Victoria (Posh Spice) Beckham, could be part of some kind sweepstakes for a personal appearance. Again, this element of the promotion would only be triggered when Marks & Spencer’s usual metrics told them to start discounting.

This is a different way of running a retail promotion and more work than what is usually required. And, frankly, most retailers would reject it out of hand because it’s so far from the norm. Retail promotions just do not work this way. When merchandise begins to get stale, you discount.

But I’m a cause marketer not a merchandiser. And I’d love test this out.

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