Create the Most Compelling Cause Marketing Campaigns for Your Company

Create the Most Compelling Cause Marketing Campaigns for Your Company

In this era of inclusivity, it’s not enough that a company be popular and relatable. It should be popular, relatable, and good. Maybe then that company would become even more popular and relatable.

Almost every large company has a corporate social responsibility program. Cause marketing is its natural progression.

What is cause marketing?

Cause marketing (aka cause-related marketing) is generally the promotion of an altruistic, philanthropic or environmental issue through the concerted effort of a non-profit and a for-profit organisation. It is more than just a sponsorship or a donation. Make no mistake: The for-profit organisation is doing good for something in return.

What happens is a balancing act of resources. The non-profit, seeking funds to stay afloat and spread public awareness of their goals, latch on to a for-profit company, seeking ways to get the most returns on its marketing budget, often bigger than its charity budget. To a for-profit organisation, it’s like hitting two birds with one stone, increasing brand recognition (leading to revenue generation) and enhancing customer relations. For the former, the reward is in the money inflow and, of course, the publicity.

Cause marketing can also be taken to mean campaigns by none other than the non-profit itself, as in the wildly popular Kony videos released in 2012.

In any case, most consumers have a greater appreciation for companies that have demonstrated or acted upon social conscience. According to various studies, including the Cone Cause Evolution Survey, the norm is that consumers are willing to switch brand allegiances on account of a good cause. Also, Alloy Media’s College Explorer research contends that 95 percent of students are less likely to dismiss ads by cause-invested brands.

Cause marketing campaign examples

American Express is widely credited for coining “cause marketing” in 1983, when it launched a fundraising effort to renovate the Statue of Liberty. Credit card activation was, needless to say, off the charts after the campaign.

With the rise of social entrepreneurs, cause marketing campaigns have never been easier to execute. Just about any third party can strengthen the synergy of a commercial interest and a non-profit. This happened last year in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Emerson College students Nick Reynolds and Chris Dobens partnered with Milwaukee-based t-shirt maker Ink to the People to raise money for the One Fund benefiting bombing victims. The partnership resulted in the ubiquitous Boston Strong tees. From just hoping to shift dozens of these shirts, Chris and Nick were able to sell more than 59,000 tees.

A little more established in the arena of cause marketing is Dunkin Donuts, particularly its Illinois branches. Since 2003, it has been holding the Cop on a Rooftop fundraiser, wherein Illinois law enforcers would stake out above Dunkin Donuts stores to help fill donation boxes benefiting the Special Olympics. Last year, Cop on a Rooftop raised $300,000; there is no doubt this year’s event will be a sweet success again.

Like Dunkin Donuts, Macy’s has been committed to cause marketing for a long time. Now past its sixth year, the department store’s Believe campaign is still one of the driving forces behind the Make-A-Wish foundation.

Other cause marketing campaigns understand and leverage the clout of their production resources, creating and uploading potentially viral video content on the interwebs. There is no forgetting Dove’s runaway hit last year, “Real Beauty Sketches,” part of the soap manufacturer’s longstanding Campaign for Real Beauty. It is now the most-watched online ad ever.

Dove supports the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., Girls Inc., and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

While the power of online videos is indubitable, cause marketers also rely on more traditional types of campaigns such as point-of-sale programs; purchase-triggered donations; licensing agreements; and employee engagement.

Tips on cause marketing

If you’re have a profit interest, cause marketing is only as good as the cause you support or create. In general, you should choose the cause that will best position your brand’s favourability and visibility.

It is paramount that you select a non-profit partner with a cause relevant to your brand, like what Olay’s skin cancer awareness projects did in behalf of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Your chosen cause must share your company’s values.

This is all in hopes of making your brand’s cause posturing come across as authentic. Nothing spoils authenticity than a mismatch in the cause and the product. KFC learned this lesson the hard way when it once decided to pair with a breast cancer awareness non-profit. Consumers immediately saw through the smoke and mirrors. Fried chicken, after all, can be carcinogenic.

Your chosen cause marketing partner should also have a reasonable understanding of public relations.  Typically, this means a solid grasp of socio-technological mediums and its mobile enablers. At the same time, don’t depend on digital marketing too much. To convince customers that your campaign is not a money grab, try holding more than one event in support of the cause.


Cause marketing doesn’t require you to be a paragon of saintliness, but it is a step in the right direction. Many corporations are at least framing their advertising campaigns as emotionally charged short films for online distribution. If this trend means anything, it only underscores the need of the public to feel good with their spending habits. At the same time, effort must be made to not appear sanctimonious, and—heaven forbid—inauthentic. Nothing dodges engagement away like foxes in sheep’s clothing.

Above all, cause marketing should be fun, if only to be sustainable. This year is truly an exciting time to be goody-two-shoes.