Cause Marketing: Reconciling for-profit companies and social goals?

Since the 1970s, cause marketing has been increasingly used by businesses.  Initially used by major brands, it has become an essential part of the marketing strategy for many smaller businesses and non-profits. Just what is cause marketing and why is it so relevant for brands right now?

What is cause marketing?

There are similarities between them, but cause marketing should not be confused with corporate philanthropy (a business makes a donation to a cause without expecting profit) nor with social marketing (a non-profit or institution uses marketing with the aim of changing people’s behaviour).

Cause marketing is the cooperative effort between a for-profit and a non-profit for their mutual benefit. This means that a brand collaborates with a non-profit in a way that generates profit for the brand and positive social impact for the non-profit.  It allows companies to reconcile the need to make a profit and the desire to contribute to a better society. 

Why more brands use cause marketing 

“84% of consumers say that they actively seek out products that are responsible, and 90% of customers say that they would boycott a company that has irresponsible or deceptive practices.”

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According to one report, 91% of global consumers expect the companies they buy from to do more than just make a profit. They also expect them to address environmental and social issues. For many consumers, a good product is synonymous with other values such as “respect”, “equality”, and “fair” treatment of workers. 

84% of consumers say that they actively seek out products that are responsible, and 90% of customers say that they would boycott a company that has irresponsible or deceptive practices. Consumers are looking to businesses to do good and be good.  

This is where cause marketing comes in. It allows brands to align themselves with a cause and create positive social change while making a profit. These companies see an increase in their social value and create new and meaningful ways to connect with their consumers and the wider public.    

The importance of partnership in cause marketing

Pink KFC-KOMEN buckets

This is the true story of a superbly mismatched partnership between KFC and Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Komen). The fast-food giant launched the Buckets for the Cure campaign and pledged a $0.50 donation to Komen for every bucket of fried chicken bought by franchise operators. It promised to be a very generous donation for a very laudable cause. 

However, marketing experts at Komen and KFC seemed to miss an important detail in the partnership equation: authenticity. Komen’s stated mission is to use targeted community action and research to prevent and cure breast cancer.  KFC is world-renown for their fried chicken. Fried foods are proven to contribute to obesity, which in turn increases the risk of breast cancer. This was definitely not the best partnership, even though Komen’s spokesperson responded to criticism saying that their “partnership [focused] on healthy options at KFC – grilled chicken and vegetables, for example.” This did not make it ‘alright’ with supporters of Komen, however, and the foundation received massive backlash from the public for its poor choice of a corporate partner. The public also accused KFC of using a good cause to make itself look good.

Moral of the story: pick a cause related to your company’s products or services. A poorly matched partnership can do serious harm to your brand’s image.

Is cause marketing right for your brand?

People around a table talking

Consumer trends show that all over the world people expect brands to do more than sell products. They want to know that you care about something more than profit and they want you to show it in deeds. Basically, actions speak louder than words.  

So, ask yourself and your team : 

  • What do we care about?
  • How can we make a positive difference?
  • What cause(s) reflect our values? 

Thinking of the cost for your small company? Rest assured that partnering with a cause does not necessarily mean a big-budget campaign. There are dozens of creative ways to support causes without burning a hole through your marketing budget. Brainstorm with your team and your chosen non-profit. Work together to find ways that will mutually benefit both your business and their organisation.

Have you used cause marketing before? Feel free to share your experience with us here. You just might inspire someone!