Villing & Company

T'is the Season: A Case for Cause Marketing

It's that time of year. The time when our mailboxes are stuffed with solicitations from all kinds of charities tapping into our altruistic soft side during this season of good will. Most of these solicitations come directly from the non-profits themselves, but some are part of partnerships between commercial marketers and specific charities. It's called cause marketing and orchestrated effectively it can be a win-win for both entities.

Now there may be cynics out there who believe cause marketing is an exploitation of the charity and that businesses should simply give to their favorite organization out of a sense of altruism and belief in the mission. Many businesses do exactly that which is great. But the criticism misses the point that a cause marketing partnership not only can generate revenue for the charity far in excess of what it could do on its own, but it also increases awareness of the charitable organization's brand and mission.

So what's in it for the commercial partner? Fundamentally, it is all about demonstrating a willingness to be a good corporate citizen by aligning with a worthy cause. A Nielsen study published in 2012 revealed that 46 percent of global online consumers are "willing to pay more for goods and services from companies that are giving back." And the number is even more dramatic among younger consumers. 63 percent of those under 40 expressed similar support for companies who demonstrate this kind of social responsibility.

There are, of course, many different forms of cause marketing. While cause marketing pre-dates Ben & Jerry's, that company built its brand as much on its commitment to social responsibility as its quirkily named (and delicious) ice cream flavors. In more recent times, Toms Shoes' business model is based entirely on donating one pair of shoes to needy children for every pair purchased. They have since expanded their product offerings and giveback program to a line of eyewear.

In a more traditional way, McDonald's (a Villing & Company client) participates in many highly effective cause marketing activities ranging from various local community activities to its ongoing support of the Ronald McDonald House Charities program. And in the name of equal time for a competitor, Quality Dining (Burger King franchisee) does a great job of supporting and publicizing the needs of Catholic Schools in northern Indiana through its popular "Lend A Hand" program.

Needless to say, one could fill an encyclopedia size book with great examples of successful cause marketing case studies. That said, I actually believe it is an under-utilized asset in the marketing communications toolbox. It's not for every organization and it needs to be approached smartly and strategically. Nevertheless, a properly designed and executed cause marketing campaign is, as I said, a win-win situation for the business and charity alike. And it could well make our world or our community a little better place.

Filed Under: branding

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