Is Aggregation The Right Approach?
In the holiday season, it’s easy for a retailer to be involved in two or three or even more cause promotions at the same time. But when you activate these promotions, should you aggregate them together, or spread them around?
My question is prompted by a single page in weekly circular from a local grocery chain called Fresh Market that dropped two weeks
On the top left of that page was the chain’s “paper icon” campaign, sales of which were meant to deliver a holiday meal to families in need. To its right was an announcement that the chain’s stores served as a drop-off point for Toys for Tots. Below that was a vendor program from Kraft that the chain participated in and which benefits local food banks.
Now, plainly, someone from chain decided to group all these cause promotions together on one page, since the full flyer was six pages long.
But is aggregating them the right approach?
So much of what this newsletter is about is activating cause-marketing promotions. But I confess that I have no idea whether the chain got this right or wrong. I can say that I’ve never seen research that took up this specific subject.
You could certainly make an argument for combining cause-marketing campaigns. It could be that when consumers see multiple examples of the chain’s involvement in the community in one place, they are more likely to affix a halo to the company.
Or, it could be that because all the cause marketing takes place on one page, if people ignore one campaign they ignore them all. Or, it could be both.
My own crackpot theory, found below, borrows from the field of education and is informed by educator and literary critic E.D. Hirsch. Hirsch is perhaps best known as the author of the book Cultural Literacy and a founder of the Core Knowledge movement.
In a recent essay called “A Wealth of Words,” Hirsch makes the case that receding economic equality in the United States can be laid at the feet of declining student vocabulary size.
“Vocabulary size,” writes Hirsch in the City Journal, “is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening, and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history, and the arts. If we want to reduce economic inequality in America, a good place to start is in the language-arts classroom.”
Hirsch posits that the best way for students to build their vocabularies is when schools “create familiar subject-matter contexts within a coherent sequential curriculum.” That is, they help students learn new words within the domain of similar contexts. By making the curriculum sequential over the school years, kids can thereby build on what they've already learned and make better guesses about the meanings of new words they come across based on what they already know.
Here, then, is my crackpot theory of activating multiple and coincident cause-marketing alliances: When sponsors have such alliances, aggregating their promotion has a summative effect for the sponsor because, when seen in context of each other, their halo shines brighter.
Has my crackpot theory been validated? Hardly. But it would be easy to test which approach is best using qualitative methods. You simply put the same flyer in several different formats and then ask people which approach they prefer and why.
Fresh Market could also A-B test its flyer to get a sense of correlation. If they get way more toy donations or more Kraft coupon redemptions at one store than at a demographically similar store, it could suggest that the flyer had something to do with it.
And, it could be that what works best in print ads doesn’t work in online efforts or mobile promotions.
Moreover, I suspect that while aggregating the activation is good and even efficient for the sponsor, it might not be as positive for the cause. So let’s take my crackpot theory out for a test drive.