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Failing Faster in Cause Marketing

Back in 2007 and 2008 Hamburger Helper ran a fun cause marketing promotion called My Hometown Helper that I don’t remember at all. In fact, there’s nothing about it at www.myhometownhelper.com, the campaign’s old website. Dial up that URL and you’ll be redirected to hamburgerhelper.com. If not for the Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database and the long tail of the Internet, My Hometown Helper would be just a distant memory for the Hamburger Helper brand manager and the recipients of the grants.  

Here’s what a press release from General Mills, which owns the Hamburger Helper brand, said about the campaign in February 2008.
“Today, Hamburger Helper announces the call for entries to the 2008 "My Hometown Helper" grant program, a nationwide initiative that lends a "helping hand" to local groups making a  difference in their community. People looking to improve their hometown --  from helping fund a volunteer fire department, to restoring a town landmark, to supporting a local school -- are encouraged to submit their entries before time runs out. From February 1st to March 31st, communities seeking support can visit www.myHometownHelper.com to apply online for a one-time grant to help fund a local project.

“’Our communities are incredibly important to us," said Hyun Mee Graves, Marketing Manager for Hamburger Helper. ‘Last fall's 'My Hometown Helper' grant program was a tremendous success, and we are reaching out to more communities in need with a second wave of the program this spring. We're dedicated to supporting projects that are making a difference right in your hometown.’

“Between February 1st and March 31st, applicants can submit an essay of 250 words or less describing how the grant would help with their community project. Award amounts will range from $500 to $15,000 and all requests for funding must be sponsored by a charitable organization, municipal or civic organization, or a public school. Funds will be awarded based on the merit of the project, including its impact on, and support within, the community, among other factors….

“Last year, 'My Hometown Helper' gave away more than $200,000 in grants and helped communities purchase new band equipment, build a school playground and fund a tornado warning system, among other great projects.”
I love cause marketing campaigns that go on for year after year because they build equity and momentum. Since every cause marketing effort isn’t likely to be a winner, one way to look at short-lived campaigns is that they’re a vital part of the process of learning what does and does not work.

In such cases, failure IS an option is a helpful mindset (unless you got astronauts trying to get home alive from an orbit of the moon. In which case, failure is not an option).

The problem with failure is that sometimes it’s just too darn slow. Think about it, in the movie Apollo 13, what saved astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise was that the engineers and technicians back in Houston failed really fast on their way to an eventual solution.

What cause marketing needs right now is causes and sponsors who are willing to risk failure in order to find the cause marketing campaign that really sings. And they need to fail in Internet time. That is, quickly.

Like Eric Ries, preaches in his book, the Lean Startup we cause marketers have got to find cheaper, faster ways to test the market potential of different cause marketing approaches. It’s not enough anymore to build something and then hope people like what you built.

Such an approach will take nerves of steel, the faith of a saint and, probably, the Internet, which enables failure to be quickly gauged.

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