by Meghan Ray Virro
During the month of October it’s possible for me to support breast cancer awareness in the following ways: I could eat a pink bagel in the morning; style my pink hair extensions; whip up a batch of cookies using a pink Kitchen Aid; go target shooting with a pink-handled Smith & Wesson handgun; watch my favorite NFL team score a touchdown in pink apparel; and, finally end my day with a relaxing pink bubble bath along with a pink ribbon rubber duckie. Like the rest of the world, I could literally be bathed in pink to demonstrate my support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Most of us know Susan G. Komen for the Cure has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for breast cancer research and education worldwide. It’s clear that Komen is a powerhouse in the cause marketing arena, raising more than $50 million a year in revenue from cause-related sponsorships. While there are many fans of Komen and other breast cancer related marketing efforts, there has recently been spirited debate about “pinkwashing” which is outlined in more detail in today’s New York Times – “Pink Ploy: Breast Cancer Charity Motives Doubted.” Moreover, many other worthy causes get overshadowed this month. Did anyone else know it was also National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month?
Cause-related marketing is an important strategic tool for companies. A 2008 Cone/Duke University study indicated that “85% of Americans say they have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a cause they care about.” When used appropriately, cause marketing campaigns create awareness of an issue, raise funds for a worthy cause and establish meaningful connections between the company and their customers.
The most effective and authentic cause marketing campaigns reflect the company’s core values and reinforce their brand identity. Ideally there should be synergy between the firm’s corporate social responsibility objectives, the cause and the company’s target audience. Some of the best cause marketing campaigns inspire consumers with a call to action that also benefits the cause.
For example, Lifetime TV just aired the premiere of a movie called “Five” that chronicles the stories of five women and the impact breast cancer has had on their lives. Lifetime also makes the connection to the work of Dr. Susan Love, a renowned breast cancer surgeon. Dr. Love’s groundbreaking initiative, the Army of Women, aims to recruit one million women and men across the nation to partner with research scientists to move breast cancer beyond a cure. It’s free and fast to sign up (Enlist now – you could save a life!). In addition to creating public awareness, Lifetime has also given their target audience an opportunity to do something positive to contribute to the fight against breast cancer. It’s a win-win.
When poorly designed, cause marketing campaigns cause unintended consequences like negative PR, brand dissonance and alienate consumers and advocacy groups. As marketers, we’ve all been exposed to poorly designed cause marketing campaigns (Buckets for the Cure, anyone?).
So how can you design a meaningful and authentic cause marketing campaign? According to Susan Goodell, Vice President at Warschawski, planning and creating a cause marketing campaign can be a rewarding and effective experience for clients, particularly if “the cause is core and key to the brand and part of who they are.”
For CustomInk, a custom t-shirt company and Warschawski client, their current “Be Good to Each Other” anti-bullying campaign raises awareness of a very real issue for teen customers and invites them to take action by purchasing or designing an anti-bullying themed t-shirt. CustomInk has pledged to donate 100% of the profits from the shirt sales to Stomp Out Bullying. They have also engaged teen celebrities to get involved by designing custom t-shirts. “CustomInk is a philanthropically minded company and this particular campaign aligns with their brand and reinforces a connection with a core target audience” says Goodell. “We focused on the target audience and considered the timing to coincide with National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. We’re also pleased that we can add value to our client’s relationship with the nonprofit by bringing the resources of our agency forward to support the cause and draw positive attention to both the CustomInk brand and Stomp Out Bullying” she continued.
An added benefit of cause marketing is the opportunity for the company to interact with their target audience in a way they might not otherwise have had the opportunity. Choosing the right cause to promote is essential. Timothy Ogden has some great tips to help with this decision making process and Komen invites their supporters to carefully evaluate a company’s cause marketing initiatives with the following “Five Questions to Ask.”
With vision and careful planning, a cause marketing campaign could be your next opportunity to be the architect of a win-win for your company and a worthy cause.
About the author
Meghan Ray Virro is a marketing communications professional with experience creating innovative solutions for diverse non-profit and for-profit enterprises.
Follow Meghan on twitter @mvirro.