While consumers are bombarded with cause-related marketing pitches, it seems they still can't get enough. The new Cone Cause Evolution Study, part of its 17-year benchmark study, reports that 83% of Americans want to see more. (Moms and Millennials, ages 18-24 years, are the biggest fans.)
But it seems letting consumers pick how the money will be spent--despite the popularity of the Pepsi Refresh Project -- doesn't work as well as most marketers think. We caught up with Alison DaSilva, EVP of the Boston-based marketing agency, to find out what's up in the pink-, green-, yellow- and red-ribbon jungle:
Q: So what's up with mothers?
A: They are so committed -- in any study, there is always a small group of naysayers, but not here. In the general study, 88% of people say it is acceptable for marketers to use causes -- it was 95% with moms. In food and beverage products, 94% of moms want to know about causes; in manufacturing, it's 91%. They are also more passionate about causes, including health and disease, education, and economic development.
Q: And Millennials?
A: In this group, 94% say cause marketing is acceptable, and 53% have bought a product benefiting a cause this year, versus 41% for the total study. A company's support of social or environmental issues is more likely to influence their decisions outside the store, too, including where to work (87% vs. 69% average) and where to invest (79% vs. 59% average).
Q: But you found they want to do more than read about it on Facebook. So maybe the Pepsi Refresh Project isn't such a success?
A: Pepsi Refresh ignited so much buzz and excitement. Pulling out of the Super Bowl last year caught everyone's attention -- it was a big, bold dramatic decision. It identified the need for consumers to be a part of the cause-related experience. But the majority of consumers want more. In our study, 61% say they would prefer to see a company make a long-term commitment to a focused issue, rather than voting themselves.
Q: But don't consumers like to "like" things?
A: Yes, but it is difficult to sustain over time, and marketers need to ask how to bring consumers in beyond the click of a button. And consumers want more -- eventually, consumers will want to know what the social impact of the campaign was. Pepsi is going to struggle with their microsponsorship, because people will ask: "Where is the social outcome?' Since Pepsi Refresh has raised so much in one-time grants and small efforts, that makes it hard to point to large-scale accomplishments.
Q: So Pepsi stands for too many causes?
A: Well, they are consumers' causes, not Pepsi's causes. Campaigns like this don't build long-lasting brand equity -- they don't define what the company stands for.
Q: What kinds of campaigns do?
A: It's different for different companies. Those that stand for causes that relate directly to their business can be leaders in a different way. Companies like Whole Foods Markets, Timberland, Starbucks, and the Body Shop -- the causes they align themselves with relate directly to what drives their business. And they've made it their job to make those issues relevant to their consumers.
Q: Should companies strive for that?
A: Not always. Educating the public about something like fair trade practices, for example, takes a big commitment. There has to be a strong institutional will to take that on -- it's not for every company.