Cause-Related Marketing in a Purpose-Driven World

(Author’s pledge - Relax - there will be no “client without a cause” references in this article.)

Cause-related marketing has never been more acceptable, and helpful to an agency and its clients. Think about it - when was the last time it was a plus to publicly leverage the good you do to increase profits?

Cause-related marketing is just that - do good by doing good and speaking up about it. While you consider using this underutilized tactic, it is important to keep the distinction between cause-related marketing and purpose-driven marketing straight.  

Think of it like this: Cause-related marketing is a tactic that brings a corporate vision and/or mission (the purpose) to life. Cause is the how and purpose is the why.

Cause-related marketing is an initiative that a for-profit business undertakes to benefit a non-profit organization or cause. Transparency is a key driver for the success of cause-related marketing - it brings financial support to the cause while shedding a positive light on the for-profit brand.

According to the Ad Council, “Purpose-driven marketing is a strategy used by an organization to center its external communications efforts around a social cause that aligns with its core values. The goal of purpose-driven marketing is for an organization to develop a deeper rapport with their consumer base by creating authentic connections based on shared values.”

Purpose-driven marketing is more than fast-talking drivel. Consider another nugget from the Ad Council: “A staggering 2020 global study from Zeno stated consumers are four to six times more likely to purchase from, protect, trust and champion purpose-driven companies. The study also states that while 94 percent of global consumers say they value companies with a strong sense of purpose, and are willing to reciprocate through brand loyalty, only 37 percent believe today’s companies are reaching their potential on this front.”

Cause-related + purpose-driven = good business in many ways.

The opportunity to leverage cause-related marketing is relatively new. Prior to the 1980s, companies were concerned about being perceived as being too braggy about doing good deeds through publicizing them. Public relations was a delicate balance - tactfully releasing news about good deeds without looking like a do-good poser. Enter American Express, who is widely credited with inventing cause-related marketing as we know it today. That’s right - a credit card gets the credit. It all started with the campaign to restore the Statue of Liberty in 1983. It is hard to imagine now, but the beloved symbol of America’s freedom had fallen into disrepair. It had become unsafe for the millions of tourists who considered Lady Liberty a must-see on a trip to the Big Apple.

A :15 TV commercial created at the time by Ogilvy Worldwide features iconic shots and footage of the Statue while a CG states, “She always stood for us. Now you can take a stand for her. Help reopen Lady Liberty.” 

The credit card company agreed to donate one cent to the project for every time a person swiped an AmEx card during the fourth quarter of 1983. The deal raised $1.7 million for the statue as AmEx card purchases jumped 30% during the quarter. In the three-month trial period, American Express handed over a third of the total funds required. Card usage increased by 17%, and the company registered 27% more new card members than usual. Cause-related marketing was born before many Millennials were.

With the rise of Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z, being a good corporate citizen is not merely bluster. It is the expected baseline necessary to engage in a relationship with a brand. 

Two current examples of how cause-related marketing can activate corporate missions are Bombas socks and Cariuma shoes. (Yes, I’m a foot-fashion nerd… a shoe and socks dog - thanks Phil Knight.)

Bombas makes and markets socks, underwear, and shirts. These are the most requested items in homeless shelters. Bombas’ stated mission, their purpose, is to help those experiencing homelessness. Their cause-related marketing is “One purchased = One donated.” They urge people to “make a purchase, make a difference.” To this point, Bombas has donated 50 million items to shelters across the U.S.

Cariuma is a relatively new shoe brand founded in Brazil, which is of course identified with rainforests. Cariuma’s stated purpose is to build a company that would better serve the planet. Their cause-related marketing effort includes using sustainable production efforts and recycled materials and a pledge to plant two trees in the rainforest for each pair of shoes sold. Shoes ordered on the recent Earth Day brought an increased incentive to plant ten trees for each pair sold that day. 

Please note: no matter how pure the method (cause) and the motive (purpose), the potential exists for someone to complain. In the successful cause of Lady Liberty in 1983, The New York Times published an article, “Cashing in on a Higher Cause.” Don’t be surprised - just be transparent and be prepared. In many cases, brand advocates come to the defense of their brand… another benefit of purpose and cause.

Brand loyalty ain’t dead… it has simply morphed into a new era. The measurables have changed. Product and service quality are not the end all be all. Like being a good corporate citizen, they are part of what’s expected of a strong brand. 

The tide has changed with the generations. The muckrakers have been replaced by do-gooder buck-makers… smart brands and their agencies who realize today that cause and purpose are elemental bricks in the foundation of a strong, healthy brand. Transparency is the mortar that holds everything together.

The jaundiced eye that was once cast suspiciously on brands that communicated about good deeds done has become clearly focused on brands who do well by doing good. Often, your clients are already doing good deeds and nobody knows about it. Ask them about it and proactively market their positive results.

We could all use more good news these days. Do great work for good deeds. It’s good for your clients, you, and the planet. 

Jack co-founded Henke & Associates, Inc. in 1987 with his father Bill Henke, in Cedarburg, WI. Henke is a longtime Second Wind member.

He delivers senior-level strategic and top-level creative direction for clients in many different industries. A strong conceptional thinker, Jack is experienced in every phase of the strategic and creative process. This entails everything from branding, leading the strategic marketing planning process, concept, writing, development, preproduction, talent-casting, audio, and video producing, directing and editing through final copy for video, broadcast, print, social and digital media.

Jack has earned national awards for writing, producing, and directing radio commercials.

In addition, Jack is a published author, content creator for clients and is a longtime local columnist in the News Graphic, where he has established himself as a leading local humorist with a keen eye for his insights and perspectives about what makes Cedarburg such a unique place.  He also hosts “The Jack Henke Show” podcast.


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