Cause Marketing and 'Nature Deficit Disorder'

Just last night my youngest asked me what my favorite thing to do was when I was her age. I grew up on the edge of the Sonoran Desert and outside our home near a crossroads was a large mound of brush several hundred feet across that was home to all manner of desert animals, reptiles and insects. Many is the hour I spent watching creatures crawl in to and out of that mound. To this day I remember vividly a grisly encounter between a rattlesnake and a roadrunner, where, as in the Warner Brothers’ cartoon, the roadrunner emerged unscathed.

In short, I didn't suffer from what author Richard Louv has called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder.’

But in his 2005 book ‘Last Child in the Woods,’ Louv describes the possible effects:


So far, no medical manual recognizes Nature Deficit Disorder, but the outdoor products company The North Face does and is actively promoting around it with a cause marketing campaign called Role Models.

Role Models asks adults to take a pledge to expose kids to the out-of-doors. This is cause marketing, but it’s largely non-transactional. The North Face wants you to do something, not donate money with your purchase. Here’s how it works:

On The North Face’s Facebook page, you pledge to take a kid out into nature. As of this writing there were 809 pledges. For instance,


The Facebook app has 20 default activities and 19 locations… ‘on a trail,’ ‘at a lake,’ ‘at a national park,’ etc. Make two mouse clicks, sign the pledge with your Facebook ID, and all you have to do is fulfill it.

Each time a Role Model makes a pledge or shares a photo/story, The North Face will donate $1 to the Children and Nature Network, an organization co-founded by Louv with a mission to reconnect kids with nature.

Participants in Role Models are entered to win free North Face gear.

The North Face has a stake in getting kids out-of-doors, of course. While the brand screams urban chic, it does so because it remains an authentic outdoor goods purveyor. If it loses cred on the mountain it also loses it on the street.

That said, while I like Role Models just fine, pledge campaigns always strike me as the least a sponsor could do. Pledge campaigns are like donuts; tasty and attractive, but filled with empty calories. That's because making a pledge online is super easy, but fulfilling it... i.e. changing behavior....is much harder.

In my view, pledge campaigns could benefit from a substantial dose of proven cognitive psychology. For instance, The North Face could emphasize that many people will help kids explore the outdoors this year, thereby drawing on the principle of social pressure.

Likewise, The North Face could ask several questions that help people think about exactly what they’ll be doing when they fulfill their pledge. For instance; ‘what do you think you’ll be doing before you pick up the kid to go to the out of doors?’ And, ‘where do you think you’ll be coming from when you pick the kid up?’

Research suggests that thinking through the specifics of an activity well before you start increases the likelihood that you’ll go through with it. So, too, would carefully-worded reminders on Facebook that would serve to help your subconscious think that you’re being monitored. 

These are straightforward additions in Facebook that would increase the likelihood that the pledges get fulfilled.

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