Skip to main content

Just How Morally Hazardous is Cause Marketing for Most Charities?

The other day a reporter asked me if doing something unethical was ever a temptation for causes engaging in cause marketing.

These days plenty of skeptics would say that the question answers itself. Cause marketing, especially the transactional variety, is inherently unethical according to thinkers like Mara Einstein, a professor at Queens College in New York and author of Compassion, Inc.

Einstein’s basic argument against cause marketing goes like this: cause marketing is too simple and too far removed from complex problems to really do good. Moreover it desensitizes (her word) consumers in the process. Einstein’s book “takes us through the unseen ways in which large sums of consumer dollars go into corporate coffers rather than helping the less fortunate,” according to the publisher’s blurb.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I assume the blurb is referencing the fact that some cause marketing sponsors cap their donation amount and thereby benefit should people continue to buy their product after the promotion has ended. Because, obviously, “large sums of consumer dollars go into corporate coffers rather than helping the less fortunate” every day, whether or not there’s a cause attached.

Surprisingly, given the alienation from causes that Dr. Einstein decries in transactional cause marketing, she is nonetheless in favor of old-school corporate philanthropy. Although how a consumer is any closer to complex problems when General Electric writes a million-dollar check from its corporate foundation than when ten million people buy a carton of Yoplait isn’t clear to me.

But my response to the reporter went something like this. I happen to know that Joe Waters, my friend and colleague and author of Cause Marketing for Dummies is a happily married man and a proud father. But if you pressed him he might admit to being attracted to supermodel Heidi Klum, seen at the left. So in the strictest sense of the term, Heidi Klum is potentially a moral hazard for Joe.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Joe has never met the woman. Let’s further say that he’s never had any interaction with her and, moreover, that he has no likely pathway to Heidi Klum. So, in the real world, Heidi Klum isn’t a temptation for Joe in a way that she might be for her happily-married driver or manager or gardener or someone else who has ready access to her.

In a like way, no more than 100 charities in the United States almost certainly account for 80 percent of the cause marketing dollars raised. I’m pretty confident that the largest 20 cause-marketing charities account for more than 50 percent of the cause marketing dollars raised. Those 100 charities are actually in the position to be tempted to take unethical actions when it comes to cause marketing just because the deals they do are for millions of dollars. Real Heidi Klum money.

Let me put the scale of this another way; if I listed all the top 100 charities that do cause marketing and put in still-readable 8 point type and printed it out on a sheet of 8.5” x 11” paper, I could cover the whole list with my hand. It's just not that many charities.

Is unethical behavior in cause marketing a cause for concern for those 100 charities? You bet it is. So their management and boards have to be ever-vigilant.

Is it possible that the thousands of causes that split up the remaining 20 percent of cause marketing dollars could also put themselves in moral hazard with regard to cause marketing? Of course.

But like the pretend temptation that Heidi Klum poses for Joe Waters, it’s not quite the same.

Comments

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

Kiva.org and Advanta.com 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. …