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Transactional Cause Marketing Is Not the Boogeyman


For a short while signs have appeared that seem to suggest that a company’s halo shines just as brightly whether they sponsor a transactional cause marketing effort as when they just make a lump sum pre-donation and promote it.

Cone’s most recent Cause Evolution study found that people are only slightly more favorably inclined towards companies employing transactional cause marketing (53%) than to lump sum charitable donations (47%).

Transactional cause marketing is when the sponsor ties its donation directly to a purchase.

Cone’s survey amplifies a small experiment highlighted in the book, “Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive,” by Goldstein, Martin, Cialdini, which had a similar finding.

But these studies make me itchy and uncomfortable, like a wool sweater in Indian Summer. It could be self-interest that gives me the itch. I make my living helping causes and companies put together effective cause marketing campaigns, after all, not showing people how to write a check.

Moreover, I keep hearing from people that there’s something perhaps underhanded about transactional cause marketing. I talked to two reporters this week who both raised the issue.

My response to one went like this: Transactional cause marketing is a promotion. So are coupons, sales flyers, sampling, among many others. But let’s just drill down on sampling. It’s very clear that when stores sample a product you’re more likely to buy it because it generates a powerful sense of reciprocity. Cause marketing pulls many of the same psychological strings. So why does the addition of a cause make transactional cause marketing somehow more underhanded than sampling? For that matter, it seems that lump-sum donations are just as likely to get you to buy something as transactional cause marketing. So why not pin the donation directly to the purchase, and, in all likelihood, raise more money for the cause?

Which brings us to O.P.I., which makes well-beloved and wonderfully-named, nail polishes and lacquers. O.P.I. has been doing $25,000 lump sum donations for several years to various causes, in this case to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. O.P.I.’s usual MO is to come up with a new color, give it an evocative name that ties in with the cause and then activate the promotion with ads in women’s magazines. Although I did find an O.P.I. ad from 2009 in the Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database that is a case of transactional cause marketing.

$25,000 is a generous one-time donation. But who doesn’t believe that if O.P.I. made this a transactional cause marketing campaign that they wouldn’t be able to donate at least twice that much?

Moreover, with transactional cause marketing, when all is said and done you can compare sales figures against a logical cohort and get a sense of correlation, maybe even causation, based on what’s different. But with lump sum pre-donations, who can say?

So to O.P.I. I say, come on over to the dark side and try some more transactional cause marketing.

I’ve even got a name for the nail lacquer color, I suggest, “In the Black Pink.”

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