Skip to main content

Cause Marketing and the Wisdom of Crowds

‘Yadelin,’ a hospitality student, in a comment posted earlier this month about a post I wrote about using cause marketing to fund a charity’s endowment, expresses surprise that cause marketing could be considered to be about raising funds. Yadelin learned in a corporate responsibility class that cause marketing is primarily about raising awareness. With this post I respond to Yadelin.

Cause marketing can certainly be about awareness raising. But it can also be used to motivate all kinds of behavior. My cell phone service provider has used cause marketing to motivate customers to switch to electronic statements.

My local electric utility has used cause marketing to incentivize me to allow the company to put a switch on my air conditioning unit that they allows them to turn off my air conditioning during periods of peak demand.

On the left, Whirlpool, which makes major household appliances like washers, dryers and refrigerators, used elements of cause marketing to draw volunteers to a Habitat for Humanity community build back in Dallas back in 2008. The ad comes from the Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database.

Jewelery for a Cause uses cause marketing to take guns off the streets and then turns them into jewelry, potentially lowering violent crime rates.

But notwithstanding what you’re learning in you corporate responsibility class, in North America cause marketing is most often used to generate funds for causes. Jewelry for a Cause, for instance, also makes donations to organizations like the American Heart Association and the Alzheimer's Association. And the money generated via cause marketing is especially valuable because it's unrestricted.

Let me explain.

For causes, funds raised via cause marketing are generally unrestricted. That means that the charity/cause is free to use the money as it deems best. This is in sharp contrast to the way much (maybe even most) causes are funded these days.

Relatively few foundation or government grants to charities are unrestricted. Instead they require that the grants be used in very specific ways, oftentimes without funds for any overhead or capital expenses. Likewise major donors commonly demand restrictions on how their donations are used. Even funds from smaller individual donors might be solicited to buy a new van for the food bank, or an ECMO machine for the hospital. When donations to a cause are solicited for specific purposes, using it in any other way is, of course, unethical. 

Do causes need incentive to keep their ‘noses clean’ besides the law and the culture? Almost certainly.

But all the restrictions on donations mean that causes frequently chase ideas that aren’t aligned with their missions because funders have one kind of hobby horse or another. If I put out word that I had $50 million to give to one or more causes to find definitive proof of Sasquatch I can guarantee that would hear from dozens of interested charities, many of whom don’t have a Sasquatch-chasing mission or purpose.

Many critics of cause marketing think of it as frivolous or inconsequential. But the fact that you have to persuade not just one person but many in order for it to work means that cause marketing benefits from the wisdom of crowds.

I have, for instance, never seen a cause marketing campaign for Sasquatch hunters.


Popular posts from this blog

Top Eight Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns of 2007

Yeah, You Read it Right. It's a Top 8 List.

More cause-related marketing campaigns are unveiled every day across the world than I review in a year at the cause-related marketing blog. And, frankly, I don’t see very many campaigns from outside North America. So I won’t pretend that my annual list of the top cause-related marketing campaigns is exhaustive.

But, like any other self-respecting blogger, I won’t let my superficial purview stop me from drawing my own tortured conclusions!

So… cue the drumroll (and the dismissive snickers)… without further ado, here is my list of the eight best cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007.

My list of the worst cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007 follows on Thursday.

Chilis and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
I was delighted by the scope of Chilis’ campaign for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As you walked in you saw the servers adorned in black co-branded shirts. Other elements included message points on the Chilis beverage coas…

Cause-Related Marketing Meets Microfinance and Mix it Up

You’d have had to have been in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia the last year or so to have missed the run up of microfinance. Between 2004 and 2006 more than $4 billion of capital flowed into microfinance institutions. All told experts say the total loan microfinance loan portfolio may be as much as $12.5 billion. And of course the father of microfinance, Muhammad Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Microfinance is now so respectable, so effective, (so profitable!) that it’s already enjoying its first global backlash.

Actually that first sentence is hyperbole. Because even in Ulaanbaatar… far from almost anywhere on the vast, frigid steppes of Mongolia… microfinance is thriving such that the earliest recipients of micro loans there are now complaining about taxes and government bureaucracy! And May 29-31, 2008 the Conference of Microfinance Institutions will convene in Ulaanbaatar, the eleventh such annual conference.
Now Advanta, a credit card issuer to small…

Cause Marketing Beer with BOGO, Brew One Give One

On Monday’s post I touched on the topic of telling people what your cause marketing campaign accomplished when completed. I’ve recommended this approach to clients as a way to keep open the lines of communication with customers and clients and to get extra value from the campaign.

In other words, you’ll want to hold back some of the promotion’s budget to continue to activate the effort until the very end.

But what if that really cuts across the grain in your organization? What if it’s just not in your corporate DNA to do anything but to frontload your cause marketing activation? Well, then, add the report back to the activation of your next cause marketing effort.

New Belgium Brewing of Ft. Collins, Colorado, said to be the seventh largest brewery in the United States, did just that with this ad in Sunset magazine. I found this ad in the Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database.

New Belgium donates $1 for every barrel it brews and sells. It’s a BOGO cause marketing effort, Buy One Give One. …