Buy specially designed cans of Coke and support polar bear habitat protection. Get a price quote from Allstate insurance and support autism research and advocacy. Buy Haagen-Dazs all-natural ice cream and support research to reverse the decline of honeybee populations. These are just a few of a growing cavalcade of cause-based marketing campaigns.
Where once corporate philanthropy may have dominated, many companies now look to connections with worthy causes to do good – and glean positive attention and customer goodwill.
Cause marketing campaigns have the virtue of meeting several objectives simultaneously. A corporation earns favorable media attention. It associates itself with a cause of public concern. And it provides an appealing call-to-action to existing and new customers.
Some corporate causes have become iconic. American Express, which pioneered this form of marketing, will forever be associated with restoration of the Statue of Liberty and, more recently, with its reopening after the 9/11 attack. Wendy's founder Dave Thomas wove together his business and personal life in the cause of adoption.
Some charitable groups have become magnets for corporate cause marketing campaigns. Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the leading advocate in the fight against breast cancer, maintains a wide range of national and local business partners such as Ford, Yoplait and Del Monte Fresh Produce, which handed out thousands of bananas at annual race events in Portland and Eugene. Mercy Corps, based in Portland, also attracts widespread corporate support.
A spectrum of causes sparks connections. Cancer-related causes are perhaps most popular, followed closely by campaigns tied to helping children, such as Macy's campaign in concert with Aflac to sell plush ducks to raise money for the treatment of childhood cancer. There has been a recent trend to tie campaigns with relief efforts for returning military veterans. An example is Activision Publishing's decision to donate the proceeds from the Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 soundtrack to an endowment dedicated to assisting veterans transition back to civilian life.
Social media has become fertile ground for cause marketing campaigns. Marc Blinder, creative director for a social media marketing company says social media is a "prime mobilization platform" where people can see their friends and trusted corporations do good.
Online platforms make donating easy. A company called Towne Place hosts a site where you can click on a hotel bed and generate a donation to the American Red Cross. Matching gifts are also easily managed. Aflac's Friend of a Feather campaign for childhood cancer research gives donors different options, including receiving or foregoing receipt of the plush duck.
Games are another online strategy that works in cause marketing campaigns. Diet Coke sponsored a Capture the Flag program to generate cash for The Heart Truth, a campaign to raise awareness of heart disease among women. A Japanese game-maker created an opportunity through one of its games to contribute to earthquake and tsunami relief.
Many of the examples cited here involve large corporations and prominent charities or relief efforts. But that isn't required. Smaller-scale cause marketing campaigns work just as well with organizations such as local food banks or emergency shelters.
In a world full of problems, there is no shortage of causes to champion. With the multi-sided benefits afforded by cause marketing campaigns, there is no reason not to let your imagination go. You can help. You just have to make the connection.