Saturday, February 20, 2016

What is Cause Marketing?

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Before I begin posting examples of successful partnerships and campaigns that challenge the notion that marketing in itself is an innately harmful practice with no redeeming qualities, I want to introduce the concept of cause marketing and explain its significance. Cause marketing involves a mutually beneficial partnership between a charitable organization or a certain cause and a for-profit business. When strategically utilized, this relationship can bring value to brands while simultaneously raising awareness about a relevant charity or cause.

As shown by multiple studies, consumers continually prefer brands and companies that have a cause-related relationship and, when deciding between cause-aligned brands and brands that are unaffiliated with charities, they tend to choose the more altruistic ones. If brands avoid standing for a cause that aligns with their values, their customers will very likely turn to their competitors with charitable connections.

Consumers also favor brands that make an effort to connect a certain cause to their brand. Rather than just arbitrarily choosing a buzzworthy cause, brands should strategically select charities that complement and align with their existing image to strike a chord with their audience. A great example of this is Coca-Cola taking their timeless advertisements starring their unofficial polar bear mascots and turning them into a cause marketing campaign to raise both awareness and $2 million to preserve the bears' habitat. Because Coca-Cola has been associated with polar bears since the launch of their first bear-themed advertisement in 1922, this partnership made sense to consumers and the affiliation between the two was both strong and obvious. Through Coca-Cola's usage of their own memorable advertisements combined with a plea to save the animals and their home, they simultaneously connected with their audience in a significant way and made a substantial difference in the world at large.

In addition to enhancing brand image and building a strong customer base, cause marketing and charity co-branding can familiarize the everyday consumer with issues that had previously been under their radar. For example, Starbucks built upon their existing relationship with coffee-growing communities in Africa by partnering with (RED) and associating their brand with World AIDS Day and the fight to end the disease that plagues African citizens. Through a simple donation of 10 cents per cup of coffee sold in their stores, they simultaneously raised $12 million and increased consumer awareness of the need for HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment across the globe. By emphasizing their company's connection to coffee-producing African communities and making an effort to change the lives of those who create their product, Starbucks both strengthened their own image and used their platform to inform their customers of a critically underfunded global cause.

In sum, cause marketing can help brands enhance their own image and attract loyal customers while magnifying both reach and impact for their chosen charity. While some may argue that marketing exists only to benefit companies and to manipulate consumers, the truth is that, when put into practice thoughtfully and effectively, marketing can be used to improve the world at large and bring attention to issues that deserve the spotlight.

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