When COVID-19 first struck and the world went into lockdown, people quickly became acquainted with a few words and phrases, like “unprecedented times,” “these uncertain times,” “here to help,” “here for you,” and “together.”
Indeed, COVID-19 gave the world one of the best opportunities it’s ever had to take a deep look at cause marketing: the integration of philanthropy or charitable missions into marketing campaigns.
For a while, cause marketing was practically inescapable — every major brand was spending money so that you knew that they were there, even if they couldn’t be right there, right now.
Unfortunately, the sudden influx of nearly identical ads, many of which came across as vacuous and disingenuous, has left something of a bad taste in many people’s mouths regarding cause-related marketing.
But when it’s done right (and at the right time), cause marketing can not only be a source of good in the world, but it can also be a source of revenue and profit growth.
In this guide, we will cover the basics of cause marketing. Plus, we’ll give you some tips on integrating philanthropy into your marketing efforts while ensuring that they stay genuine, effective, and truly helpful.
What Is Cause Marketing?
Cause marketing, aka cause-related marketing, is a form of marketing that includes charitable and philanthropic efforts in a brand’s promotional materials.
Put simply, when you see an ad that says “a portion of all proceeds goes to cancer research,” that’s cause marketing in action.
The driving idea behind cause-related marketing is that consumers are more likely to buy from a brand they believe is doing some good. After all, if you can choose between Joe’s and Bob’s donut shops, but only Joe is donating 10% of his profits to feed the homeless, which one are you more likely to choose?
In fact, at least one study has demonstrated that a whopping nine out of ten consumers will switch products if it means they can purchase from a brand they feel is doing something positive — assuming the product is a similar price and of comparable quality, of course.
That indicates that cause marketing may be one of the most potent weapons in a marketer’s arsenal. But with great rewards also come great risks, so you must tread carefully.
How to Implement Cause Marketing
Overall, cause marketing is relatively simple: you choose a charity or cause and find a way to support it. Typically, that means donating a portion of your proceeds.
But as we saw with COVID-19, cause marketing can sometimes backfire and make your brand look like a money-grubbing company that’s exploiting a severe issue for its profit.
That is the last impression you want to give off.
So, how can you prevent that from happening? If you’re a small business and not a multinational corporation, you’re already at a lower risk of giving the wrong impression. But you can take a few steps to mitigate it even further.
Pick a Charity That Lines Up With Your Mission
The first step in implementing a cause marketing campaign is deciding which cause you to want to support. Many brands choose to go with a fairly public charity and are well known because of its large reach and non-controversiality, like UNICEF, but that’s not always the best direction to go in.
Suppose you want your campaign to be effective. In that case, you need to stay genuine and maintain authenticity, which means finding a way to make consumers truly believe that you’re doing this for the cause, not for the additional profits it may bring in.
The easiest way to make that happen is for it to be true. The cause you support should align well with your brand’s mission statement and be something you believe in. If it does, your customers will be more likely to trust that you care and view your brand positively.
Sometimes, this is easier than others. For example, no one will bat an eye at a vegan bakery running a campaign stating that it’s donating 2% of its proceeds to PETA. Given that the business is built around that cause in the first place, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would accuse the bakery of exploiting it for its profit.
However, a puppy mill donating 2% of its proceeds to the same charity likely wouldn’t go over too well. Not only is it hypocritical and disingenuous, but no one that supports PETA would want to support the puppy mill financially in any way — the mill still gets 98% of the money, after all.
In short, try your best to find a cause that comes across as an integral part of your brand identity.
Partner With the Charity
Donating a portion of your proceeds to charity is great, but it’s possible to go a step further. Businesses can partner with charities to learn how to help the cause effectively.
For example, a sustainable non-profit partnering with an electronics brand may suggest that it cut down on the amount of plastic it includes in its packaging. Implementing that advice into its greater corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals makes its cause marketing efforts more likely to come across as genuine.
Donating money is a given, but it can amplify the effect if you can help in more ways than one.
Cause Marketing Examples
One of the most famous examples of cause marketing is Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. It launched initially in 2004 and has since become a core part of its identity.
There are several parts to Dove’s Real Beauty initiative:
- Dove promises never to feature models.
- Dove tries to portray women as accurately as possible to help create more realistic beauty standards.
- Dove hopes to empower women and girls with self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Dove donates money to women’s charities.
This campaign works so well because it fits in with Dove’s raison d’etre. It comes across as genuine and not an attempt at profit-boosting virtue signaling.
Another great example is Starbucks’s college tuition initiative. In this case, Starbucks offers to cover the cost of college tuition for some of its employees.
Why does this make sense? Well, many Starbucks employees are young, college-aged adults. By choosing this cause, Starbucks shows that it’s giving back to its employees and treating them well, not just throwing money at a faceless entity.
Key Takeaways: Cause Marketing
Cause marketing can take your brand to new levels of success, but it’s not without its risks.
For the most part, cause marketing creates nothing but good, both for your business and the world.
But if you don’t honestly believe in the cause you’re supporting and instead try to exploit it for your gain, it can quickly backfire.
Some businesses will have a hard time making a cause a big part of their brand identity in the same way Starbucks and Dove were able to, and that’s fine. Just mention the reason you support briefly in your promotional materials instead of making it a focal point. People are more likely to think you’re doing something exploitative if you keep an unfitting charity and make sure everyone knows about it. Subtlety can have a significant effect on this scenario.
Overall, the key to success with cause marketing is staying genuine and authentic. If you find a cause you truly believe in, you can give back and get back simultaneously.