I think we can all attest to the fact that people strive to make connections, especially in today’s fast-paced world. So when a company associates itself with an issue or cause that we care about, we are immediately drawn to its product.
Cause marketing, in a nutshell, is an initiative from a for-profit company to raise awareness, money, and consumer engagement for a particular cause. This kind of marketing is a growing trend: sponsorship by major corporations is predicted to reach $1.84 billion in 2014, according to IEG’s monthly sponsorship report.
Companies have the most success when they connect with causes that are relevant to their products. Here are some examples:
Proctor and Gamble has been a champion of cause marketing, having won the 2012 Forbes Cause Marketing Halo award. Of course, being a large corporation with multiple products makes things easier. For example: one pack of Pampers equals one vaccine; Tide Loads Hope sends a mobile laundromat to disaster areas; and Dawn Everyday Wildlife campaign donates products and funds to clean oil spill areas.
General Mills’ Box Tops for Education campaign was a blowout, encouraging parents to buy its cereals and other products so kids can help raise money for their school. OfficeMax has also done its part for education, with its “Adopt a Classroom” initiative and multitude of student and teacher discounts.
Hanes donated socks to the homeless. Kellogg’s gives free breakfasts to hungry kids. TUMS fights for underfunded fire departments (which is ironic considering that TUMS – the product – fights against heartburn).
Campaigns like these are nearly endless; we could go on forever celebrating increased awareness and funding by generous corporations. With so much goodwill being spread, how could there be any critics of cause marketing? But of course, there’s always a critic.
Skeptics of seemingly caring corporations are seeing what they think is the real motive for the generosity: when a company benefits a cause, it is really just looking for more sales. If a consumer knows that that 10% of sales will be donated to cancer research, they will look at a product and say, “Sure, I’d be happy to buy that.” Yes, cancer research is being funded, but the company selling the product is making the real gains. Critics would claim that the paradox of “selfish giving” is actually true when applied to this situation.
It appears that the main targets of this skepticism are campaigns that promote social movements rather than specific organizations or causes. Materials endorsing these messages are becoming increasingly popular, mainly online. For example, Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches,” winner of multiple awards and one of the most-viewed ad videos of all time, promotes self-confidence in women. Always’ “Like a Girl” video has also gone viral and conveys a similar message. These videos do not show products and barely even display the company logo, but rather, the ideals they claim to believe in.
Is this wrong? Of course not. But critics of cause marketing would agree that by striving to increase confidence in women, Dove, Always, and other companies supporting different movements (Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl ad, “America the Beautiful,” encouraging diversity and immigration comes to mind) care more about increasing sales than about supporting these so-called ideals.
In my opinion, these skeptics need to wake up and smell the bacon. We live in a society of capitalism, where businesses are in business to make a profit. If they can make money while supporting a deserving organization, both will benefit and that’s a good thing. If a company can associate its product(s) with a popular movement or meaningful idea, then kudos! Not everyone might see things this way, but in the advertising industry we do because we understand and appreciate the power of connections. It looks like cause marketing will continue to be a powerful player in campaigns across all industries.
We want to hear YOUR opinion on this issue. Comment below or tweet us @brunetgarcia