Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is Cause Marketing Dumbing Us Down ?

--trends + business + politics--

In what is perhaps a marketing stroke of genius, cause marketing links causes to products and turns everyday purchases into philanthropic gestures. No longer is candy just associated with cavities - now it can just as much be about endangered species. Ice cream no longer needs to bring up images of expanding waist lines, instead images of saving pretty fuzzy buzzing bees get conjured. Cause marketing takes the guilt out of consumption and gives more reason for consumers to consume. Is it bad ? Is it good? It's complex.

Yes, cause marketing helps raise awareness to issues that perhaps most consumers would overlook. Clearly more people will come in contact with the idea of endangered species if it's on a chocolate bar at their supermarket check out line then if they have to search it out on a WWF or Greenpeace site. But we need to ask if perhaps cause marketing and "cause purchasing" is actually accomplishing the high impact long term shift that is required to turn consumers into activists - without the association of extremism (talk about a branding challenge). Donating 10% of a chocolate bar (multiplied by several million)might make a decent dent in the problem - but ultimately does little in terms of educating the public on the urgency of the causes that they incidentally just supported. Causes need money, yes, but they also need a voice and pressures from the mass market to create real change and address real problems. Such change comes only after people are educated and moved passionately to action.

Cause marketing is much like "green marketing" - it inspires those with disposable income to "do good" by ultimately doing little. A move in the right direction if those dollars are permanently reallocated from less mindful products, none-the-less such gestures offer little in terms of social psychic change. We still remain disassociated on the impact of our actions and those of our communities. We continue to operate in an "as is" manner helping solidify policies and practices of industry and governments that continue to support the problem. We buy ourselves into complacency by thinking that the 15 cents we donated on our purchase is doing enough.

In a post run today on the Environmental Leader, Mike Hess, director-global research and consumer insights for Omnicom Group’s OMD, New York, says that cause marketing should not only have a positive ROI, but should generate a better return than other marketing efforts (according to an AdAge report). Sounds like a "hole in one" as they say. Hess went on to elaborate that consumers emotional connections in equating a cause with a brand maybe be stronger than forged by other advertising. In fact his assertions are backed up by research that shows that 72% of consumers say they a purchased a brand because it supports a cause they believe in (2007 PR Week / Barkley Cause Survey). I wonder though...of the 72% who purchased based on cause - what else had they done in that year to support that cause or for that matter did they even remember that cause a day later ?

Cause marketing might be good for industry and good for raising funds for certain issues - but offers little in terms of educating the public on the weight and breadth of the issues they think they are supporting. It continues to proliferate the "drive thru" mentality that says you can accomplish or purchase anything you want with little thought, effort, or for that matter "nutritional value." I think Madison Avenue needs to take it "up a notch" and figure out how to truly retain those "cause consumers."

Maybe our ad men can figure out how to "hook them" as they say, even more by engaging them around such causes beyond just one off purchases. How about creating communities around chocolate do gooders that will eat candy bars as they write their congressman to make their voices heard around issue that really "stick with them." Beyond vapid gestures - can marketers help turn consumers truly conscious? Can they sell us a conscious lifestyle the same way they sold us women's lib through cigarettes ? If profits are still to gain can marketers mobilize the masses for something good for a change ? Is Madison Avenue up for a real challenge? Let's see how big...the big boys really want to play.

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