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In This Post I Get Defensive About Cause Marketing

In the lead up to the eagerly-anticipated Social Media Week in New York City later this month, Lisa Chau interviewed Mike Hemingway, who helped create the Dove Real Beauty campaign while at Olgivy & Mather.

Chau asked Hemingway the following: “Why doesn’t cause marketing work?”

Work at what? Moving product? Increasing profits? Providing a meaningful source of unrestricted cash to nonprofits? Taking garbage questions like this out to the back alley and shooting them?

As a practice, cause marketing has been grown faster than the rate of inflation for 20 years. Companies like General Mills, Campbell’s, and even Subaru have made cause marketing a centerpiece of their marketing strategy for years. In survey after survey, people from every demographic… even those who have complaints with cause marketing…would like to see more it.

And, never mind that Hemingway’s brainchild… Dove Real Beauty… is a flavor of cause marketing.

Here’s Hemingway’s response:
“Cause marketing works in terms of increasing the overall knowledge of the true soul of a company. But in terms of sales and persuasion, cause marketing does not add specific enough information for the consumer to make a choice. For instance, the great work Bill Gates does on polio and other causes does not help Microsoft in terms of either share or affinity.”
I assume that Hemingway was slightly flummoxed by Chau’s question, because his proof that cause marketing doesn’t work in terms of sales and persuasion is a non sequitur. While Bill Gates remains Chairman of Microsoft, he hasn’t been its CEO since Jan 2000 and he left day-to-day management of the company in June 2008 to devote more time at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is the entity Hemingway refers to that is actually taking the fight to polio.

While the Gates Foundation and Microsoft share a link, namely Bill Gates, no one buys an Xbox console or a copy of Visio or Sharepoint thinking that some part of the purchase price will go toward the fight against polio. No one.

And that’s not because “cause marketing does not add specific enough information for the consumer to make a choice.” It’s because the connection between what Microsoft sells and what the Gates Foundation funds is a tenuous thread at best.

You ask a dumb question and you get a silly answer.


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