Cause marketing has spiked in popularity the past few years. The annual amount of money raised by cause marketing campaigns is approaching $US2 billion annually, and is frequently integral to a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. The idea to give a percentage to a cause, or a few pennies per transaction to a project, dates back to Marriott’s partnership with the March of Dimes in 1976. Not only did the project raise millions of dollars for the American health charity, but the campaign was also crucial for the promotion of Marriott’s new amusement park that opened near San Jose, California.
Now consumers often see vestiges of cause marketing in brick-and-mortar stores, advertisements, and of course, on the web. Shopping at Whole Foods contributes to its eponymous charitable foundation, and sipping lattes at Starbucks has translated into funding for Conservation International. Cause marketing, however, can also risk the creation of a public relations headache if not handled gingerly: the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, for example, got some companies like Microsoft in hot water. Microsoft’s promise to donate a dollar every time one of its Tweets was forwarded infuriated Twitter users, who saw the tragedy as a plot to promote the search engine Bing. The cynics in many of us also cringe with the lofty language and soaring promises that cause marketing offers. Furthermore, consumer reaction has evolved from an affinity towards a product to asking for more information about the impact that both companies even non profit organizations have on people and the planet. Whatever your take is on cause marketing, there is a broader point that many of us miss: just what exactly is the end result of these campaigns?
One large problem with cause marketing is not whether these campaigns are a positive good or ridden with ulterior motives, but that the progression and final outcomes are often forgotten. It is not enough to flick consumers the quick fact that their purchases raised a U$1 million after a month of frenzied purchases. Consumers want to know how that money was appropriated, and in an era of war, political stability, and economic recession, they want to feel connected with the greater world and believe that they make a difference.
Companies are not as adept at explaining the progress, nor the results, of their cause marketing campaigns as they are at promoting them–with the result that any emotional connection with their customers languishes. Clearly, no one wants to crassly profit off of a campaign that means so much to the people who need that assistance the most. Nevertheless, an effective messaging medium can help keep a CSR initiative front and center. If handled correctly, that message and its success can build stakeholder confidence, and that coveted emotional bond between a company and its brand.
Video is one of many valuable tools available to companies that want to articulate the effects a cause marketing campaign has had on the public good. Interviews with the people who benefit, employees who were integral to a cause marketing campaign’s success, and the the filming of a new community center or school can contribute to a company’s CSR agenda in a way that is not crassly self-promotional. Such tools, however, should not be relegated to a CSR portal–they are also a valuable tool to present at shareholders meetings to impart why corporate social responsibility is critical to a company’s strategy as well as its public relations agenda.