Supporting A Cause Beyond Your Bottom Line

Blame it on being raised by idealistic Baby Boomer parents. Blame it on playing team sports where everyone had an equally important role to play and everyone got a trophy. But, the result is still the same … Millennials have a cohort perspective. They tend to think of things in terms of the impact on the group, not the individual. As such, they tend to be engaged in social issues and causes. 

The 2011 survey of incoming college freshman by the Higher Education Research Institute showed that Millennials were just as likely to say helping others who are in difficulty was as an essential or very important life goal as raising a family. Because they are engaged and those matters are a priority to them, they will align themselves with brands and companies who support similar matters. 

The essential lesson for marketers—your brand should support a cause beyond your bottom line. 

This type of thinking often comes to the forefront of marketers’ minds after disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. But there is a right and a wrong way to align your brand with a social cause that will matter to Generation Y. 

The wrong way is to obviously exploit the situation for your company’s gain. This is generally offensive to people of all generations, but Millennials will probably be the least forgiving of this type of transgression and the most likely to take action to demonstrate their distaste. Millennial-targeted American Apparel reminded marketers what not to do this week. 

In the now practically infamous Monday night email blast American Apparel offered a 20% discount off everything to anyone living in states that were to be impacted by the storm. The headline read, “In case you’re bored during the storm” and the offer code to enter at check out was “SANDYSALE.” Not surprisingly, the response was overwhelmingly negative, particularly within Gen Y’s key area of influence—social media. For example, Twitter users told American Apparel they should “shut up,” proclaimed they were insulted, and called for boycotts. The damage to the brand image is likely substantial—even for a company that has dealt with numerous PR nightmares (harassment lawsuit anyone?)

On the flip side, several banks in the Northeast are aligning their brands with Hurricane Sandy the right way. They are demonstrating they understand the gravity of the situation by offering assistance where it’s needed. Both Wells Fargo and Bank of America have stated intentions to donate a million dollars to the Red Cross and other relief efforts. TD Bank Group is not only making a $500,000 donation, they are creating an assistance program for their customers impacted by the storm, and BNY Mellon is making a sizable donation and encouraging employees to give as well by offering to match their donations. 

The moral of the story is to be sensitive to sensitive situations—particularly in times like these. Don’t make light of serious matters to put a spin on your agenda (I’m sure Kenneth Cole will attest to that after their disastrous tweet last year during the political unrest in Eygpt: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.”)

As you align your brand with causes and social issues that make a positive impact on the world, without obviously turning it into a tacky marketing message, Millennials will take notice. They will respond. They want to help others, and will support companies who make it a priority to do the same. 

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