tin donations box

As brands try to ‘make a difference in the world’ and differentiate themselves from their competition, many turn to cause-related marketing for an answer.

While cause-related marketing has many similarities with delivering purpose beyond profit, there are also significant differences.

The former is entrenched in values, about consistency in the long term; purpose represents the core of the organisation’s DNA. Cause-related marketing is typically much shorter-term and related to a specific charity promotion.

There is nothing inherently wrong with linking your brand to a cause – and activist CEOs doing it all over the world. But, if you do latch onto a popular cause – whether it’s climate change, gender pay, LGBTQ+ rights, animal welfare or whatever – you need to:

  • be consistent – does your entire brand and all your staff and actions align with the cause?
  • drive change – just being a passive supporter is not enough

Last year, we wrote about how Lush overstepped the mark by launching a cause-related marketing campaign about undercover police behaviour.

At 360 Integrated PR, we understand the appeal of activism to many of our socially-minded clients. If you are a CEO or owner-manager interested in building a reputational campaign around a cause that’s close to your heart, we can help you (or dissuade you, if that’s the right thing to do). Causes need activists; companies need ambassadors – in the words of Casablanca’s Rick, “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.

We live in a world where trust in business and in charities is in decline. So how do you ensure you pick the right cause for you and your business?

Pick a cause that is meaningful to your audience

The cause has to make sense for your brand and your customers. It’s a long time since Anita Roddick tied The Body Shop to the campaign against animal testing, but the appropriateness of the cause was clear to see.

The simple goal is that as your social impact grows, your brand power will grow as well. For example, Toms Shoes gives away a pair of shoes for every pair it sells. Social impact and brand power are intimately linked.

By contrast, Pepsi got hammered when it tried to throw its weight behind people demonstrating against injustice. Its advert, featuring Kendall Jenner, pressed all the wrong buttons and trivialised the protests of the very people to whom the brand was trying to appeal.

Enlist a cause-related marketing partner

Don’t simply launch a cause-related marketing campaign on your own. Work with someone who is intimately engaged in the issue – ideally an NGO. This not only adds credibility to your campaign, but their expertise will help you avoid some of the dangers outlined above and create a campaign which delivers real impact.

At the most basic level, it’s just polite to ask the people you’re trying to help whether they want you and your company to be involved with their activities! Many charities are very active in licensing their brand.

Help for Heroes licences its brand to several commercial companies. Noble Foods raised £1.3 million for the charity by creating a specific Eggs for Soldiers product and donating 15p to the charity from each box sold.

The Nobel Foods campaign also illustrated that simple concepts are often the best. Unicef and Pampers (P&G) is another very successful partnership with a beautifully straightforward proposition: buy one pack, deliver one vaccine.

Never waver

Don’t take your eye off the ball. Every action must be consistent with the cause you adhere to. This applies equally well to the charities. The recent uproar over the Sackler Foundation art donations illustrate that customers will raise issues when they see you getting into bed with the wrong people.

Be prepared for criticism

You trying to be controversial. So don’t be surprised when you cop some flak. How do you respond? Make sure you discuss potential criticisms honestly with your team and trusted advisers before the campaign starts. Hold a pre-mortem: start from the premise that the campaign has bombed and asked what went wrong? Discussing things openly in advance reduces likelihood of playing the blame game internally should something bad happen later.

By predicting the most likely scenarios, you can plan your response and feel confident that you can answer the critics when they come.

We are all in favour of businesses backing causes. The world needs business to solve its problems. After all, industrialisation has helped cause many of them. If your business would like some help devising a strong case-related marketing strategy, contact us for a free initial consultation.