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Cause Marketing and Branding

Done right, cause marketing can be a terrific branding tool for the cause and the sponsor. But doing it right is the challenge.

It’s easy to slap together a transactional cause marketing campaign for some consumable item; a box of Kleenix, a candy bar, a toothbrush. But when a consumer purchases an everyday item, that purchase probably doesn’t connect the cause, the sponsor, and the consumer at a very deep level. No one uses a Zip-Loc bag, which benefits schools through the Boxtops for Education campaign, and thinks about local school kids having better educational outcomes as a result.  

As a marketer I don’t have any problem with that kind of imbedded giving that exists at a surface level. But if the sponsor or the cause wants to really build their brand, they’re going to need to add a little extra something.

That’s what Sharpie has done in its effort on behalf of the City of Hope’s breast cancer research efforts.

During October when you buy pink Sharpie products a donation is triggered. But it’s Sharpie’s extensions that I think are more notable. During October every autograph submitted in pink Sharpie garners $1 for the City of Hope. Naturally, they’ve secured the support of a number of celebrities.

Sharpie employees that donated $10 or more to City of Hope got to wear jeans to work the week of Sept 28, 2012 to October 9, 2012. They also did an employee bake sale, a walk and an auction of items created with Sharpies by top designers.

But my favorite campaign extension from Sharpie is a weekly contest that runs until Nov. 2, 2012. Submit an original work of art in pink Sharpie and you could win $1,000 worth of Sharpie markers and pens. There’s one winner a week.

I think it would be almost impossible to use Sharpie’s pink pens/markers without making a deeper connection with the cause than you would if, say, you ate a Snickers candy bar. The purchase of Snickers bars have benefited Feeding America. There’s something about the creativity required in art, as well as the physicality of drawing with a pen, that would, I think, tie you closer to the cause, and better build the brand.

My only quibble with the campaign is that $1,000 worth of Sharpies represents 200 sets of pink markers and 200 sets of pink pens. The contest rules suggest that the Sharpies could go to your local school(s). You’d probably want to do that since Sharpie is going to send you a 1099 for the full value of the prize. That is, you’re going to have to pay taxes on a thousand-dollars-worth of markers.

Moreover, a Sharpie has a long life-span, and a pink one even longer since it probably won’t get the same use that a black one does. Four hundred pink Sharpie markers/pens is a lot. So why not give $1,000 cash in the name of winner to the City of Hope, and $100 in Sharpies?


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