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How Big is Cause Marketing?

I’m delighted to offer a guest post today by my friend and cause marketing colleague David Hessekiel, the founder and president of the Cause Marketing Forum and the co-author of the new book on cause marketing called Good Works, out as June 5, 2012. David co-wrote Good Works with marketing legend Phillip Kotler and Nancy Lee.

Today David tackles the issue of just how big cause marketing is and how we can get to a more meaningful measure of its size and dimensions. For years the only calculation we’ve had is IEG’s annual projection of how much companies plan on spending on cause marketing in the year to comes. As a gauge of cause marketing it’s a little determining the health of your car by measuring how much air pressure is in the back right tire. It’s inadequate and not very telling. 

One of the fabulous yet sometimes frustrating aspects of cause marketing is its diversity.  

Some campaigns focus on raising funds (buy this and we’ll give a dime), others concentrate on sharing a message (join us in supporting this cause), some try to change behavior (change your smoke detector battery). Most are hybrids of the above with a healthy dose of employee engagement, corporate philanthropy and socially responsible business practices thrown in.

This assortment of activities makes the field fascinating, but makes quantifying how much cause marketing is going on very difficult.   

I confronted this issue while co-authoring “Good Works! Marketing and Corporate Social Initiatives that Build a Better World and the Bottom Line.” Like most of us in the field, I referred to the IEG Sponsorship Report’s annual forecast of total sponsorship spending.  (This year, for example, cause is expected to attract $1.73 billion in corporate sponsorship, a 3.1% increase and 10% share of total sponsorship spending.)

I was glad to have this information as a directional guide, but it is a poor proxy for all the spending going on at the intersection of cause and commerce. IEG does not share its methodology, beyond saying that it surveys numerous corporations and then uses some sort of formula to come up with totals for expected corporate investment in the sports, entertainment, cause and other sponsorship sectors.  

I’m quite sure IEG does not capture investment in or value generated by cause campaigns in the form of paid or earned media, skilled and unskilled employee volunteer labor or money contributed by consumers through the purchase of paper icons or via donations online or at checkout.

And I don’t fault them for not doing so. Companies are reticent at best about revealing marketing budgets. Capturing and valuing earned media and employee volunteerism are inexact sciences with great variations based on who is analyzing the data.

I’d love to be able to announce that my company, Cause Marketing Forum, is going to produce an omnibus study serving up all of this data in a nice tidy report, but we can’t.

We are, however, going to put in the work to add a few data points to the equation in the form of some illuminating top ten lists to be published in 2013. Right now we are thinking of the Ten Largest Transactional Programs (I assume.General Mills’ Boxtops for Education would be #1) and the Ten Largest In-Store Fundraising Programs (e.g. Macy’s Shop for a Cause or Chili’s Create-A-Pepper to Fight Childhood Cancer).

Now is the time to let us know if there are other cause-related top ten lists based on publicly available quantitative data that you’d like to get your hands on.


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