The beginnings of cause marketing took shape as we kept moving the needle on public awareness and action. The reason: When we engaged people emotionally and presented a framework for immediate action, they moved. We were helping them do what they could not do on their own, and the issues and brands involved had a role in their becoming the citizens they wanted to be.
Now that green has become an umbrella term for corporate social responsibility, and consumers expect companies to actually do something about issues facing both planet and people, it's worth establishing a hierarchy of inspiration. The behavioral change that social impact campaigns covet is the highest in a five-level progression: financial, intellectual, emotional, physical and behavioral.
Financial: This is the fallback frame because it's the simplest mechanism. "Buy one and we'll donate $1 to the cause." Of course, the financial calculations can be more complex. For starters, corporate marketing can raise awareness well beyond what a nonprofit can achieve on its own. But there's a two-fold trap: It's another sales claw on already jaded consumers, and it's tempting to promote more than you donate.
Look at the recent campaign by Georgia Pacific in which it is donating $50,000 to a charity through its Vanity Fair Brand that is touted in a full-page ad in Martha Stewart Living. All in, the ad approaches, or even eclipses, the amount of the donation. It disappoints me when I see companies spending more on the promotion than on the donation itself, and I doubt consumers would continue their support if they knew the real equation.
Intellectual: When consumers get the connection between your social issue and brand promise, check this box. Nature Valley Granola gives money to the National Parks Project, which makes sense because the brand was popularized by hikers. Not every brand affiliation passes this authenticity test.
An already classic example of this is KFC offering a 50-cent donation to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for each bucket of chicken sold. What? So, what they are saying is, "Buy more of this deep-fried fuel for obesity, a major risk factor for breast cancer, so we can help treat you if you get sick from this kind of food." Manipulation and inauthenticity backfire in a world where corporate missteps go global in seconds on social networks.
Financial and intellectual strategies don't connect heart-to-heart. The appeals remain external to people's passions. The promotion can trigger a transaction but not a relationship. Think of it as a one-night stand in the land of goodwill. To go the distance, a campaign has to make internal connections. That means emotional connection, physical interaction and behavioral change.
Emotional: Internal means emotion, first and foremost. The key: how relevant the issue is to intended consumers. Yoplait's Save Lids to Save Lives campaign in support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a great example of a significant emotional connection. In contrast to KFC's illogic leap, Yoplait fits; yogurt is linked to health and longevity factors.
Breast cancer touches people directly and indirectly on multiple levels. So the brand's association transcends the financial transaction. Yoplait becomes an emotional choice for anyone who's personally affected by the disease.
Physical: Actions train deeper than words. Having a physical interaction with the brand and the issue promotes a more intimate connection with both. A great example of this is Box Tops for Education. People often choose products because of the little Box Tops for Education certificate. They cut out the certificates and bring them in to their schools, which get cash donations in redemption.
For many schools, the program now provides a community platform. One elementary school in low-income Bayville, N.J., even organizes monthly contests involving Box Tops -- including a principal-teacher Sumo wrestling match -- and rallies senior centers to clip the coupons en masse. So the commerce activates the community and vice versa.
The program works so well that General Mills is now licensing the program to non-competing brands and it keeps growing every year. Why? Because it not only makes financial and emotional sense, it engages consumers physically in the change process.
Behavioral: There's no shortcut to the gold of behavioral change; you have to be solid in the four pillars. When a company makes a financial contribution, connects with people intellectually on an issue that resonates emotionally, and provides a means to take positive action on the issue, some people will alter their habits altogether. Shorthand: you actually effect change while building your brand. Then you're practicing effect marketing.
An example is [client alert!] Ben & Jerry's One Sweet Whirled Campaign wherein 200,000 tons of CO2 were taken out of the air by individual actions, 77,000 letters were written to Congress, and the company broke its own product launch record. People changed their behavior and bought more ice cream.
One Sweet Whirled worked on all five levels. Externally, we'll donate to the clean-air movement (financial) and you'll lose 2,000 pounds ... of CO2 (intellectual, a poke at super-premium calorie count). Internally, your favorite groups (emotional) are making civic action turnkey (physical) and educating on living a greener life (behavioral).
A brand can't buy this level of change; it can only earn it by creating the framework for people to devote their own energy.
When people willingly devote their own energy to social change that propels both planet and product, you get effect marketing. Not every brand can get there, but any marketer can make a start. How? By looking clearly and honestly at what level of the hierarchy the company can realistically play on, and making sure the connections make sense.