Cause Célèbre

Gen Y has higher expectations of the products that it uses and consumes, demanding that brands not only perform to perfection but help make the world a better place at the same time. The rising popularity of cause-based marketing reflects a fundamental shift in the way that Gen Y is changing consumerism.

While most marketers reflexively reach to the "environment" when they outline their cause-based marketing efforts, a study conducted by SurveyU in May shows that the environment is merely the 10th most-important cause in the minds of current college students.

What ranks at the top of the list? Education is considered very important by 81%, followed by child endangerment/abuse prevention at 68%. The fact that education leads the list shows how concerned students are about protecting and furthering their academic careers. Rape prevention (65%), civil/human rights (65%) and cancer (62%) round out the top five, with drunk driving prevention (61%), genocide (59%), domestic violence (57%), AIDS (57%) and environment/conservation (54%) completing the list of the causes that college students find important.



As the economy has collapsed over the past nine months, global causes have been replaced by local causes. Of the top 10 social causes, only one (genocide) has an obvious international context.

College students expect you and your brand to support their favorite causes as well. Slightly more than 2 out of 5 (41%) think that brands "definitely should" support causes, while nearly another 2 out of 5 (39%) think that your brand "probably should" support a social cause of one form or another. Put another way, only 1 out of 5 college students doesn't think that your brand should do something socially meaningful.

Cause marketing is a cluttered field, with a multitude of brands trying to associate themselves with "doing good." The first step is to align yourself with a cause that is relevant to your product. Students have strong opinions about what is appropriate for your brand based on your industry -- cleaning product manufacturers, transportation providers and public utilities are expected to support environmental causes, pharmaceutical companies are expected to support health and well-being initiatives and apparel companies are expected to support human rights. Align your product with something relevant, and you'll communicate clarity of purpose.

How do you announce your involvement? Get in their face. Television ads are cited by 60% as the means by which they became aware of brand-sponsored cause initiatives, followed by packaging (58%) and in-store ads (57%).

Is it worthwhile for your brand to adopt a cause and spend hard-earned dollars on telling the world that you care? The product(RED) campaign is a great example of the power of cause-based marketing, with 75% of collegians aware of the campaign and 39% having purchased a product(RED) item.

In an isolated context, more than half of students (53%) have purchased a product because it was associated with a cause. When faced with multiple options, two-thirds (67%) will select one brand over another for the simple fact that it was related to a social cause.

While supporting a social cause may help indeed generate incremental sales, consider it an important defensive maneuver. Taking the most relevant hill on the cause-marketing field (before your competitors do) will pay dividends among the largest generation in American history.

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2 comments about "Cause Célèbre ".
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  1. Bill Byrne from Remedy PR, June 26, 2009 at 1:28 p.m.

    Great piece Dan, especially mentioning the product (RED) campaign. It combines relevance for the demo with products/brands the market can relate to.

    Too often brands want to throw a cause related logo on a product, make a donation and feel their job is done. The (RED) team puts a lot of effort into creating new partnerships and refreshing their line, so it stays relevant with the people they're targeting season after season.

  2. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC, June 26, 2009 at 1:42 p.m.

    So much of what you describe is true of other market segments, as well. My favorite point, and one I hound my readers/audiences about is this one you made: "The first step is to align yourself with a cause that is relevant to your product. " Why that is so hard to do is a mindblower. In the women's market, it's been Susan G. Komen (which is a great cause, of course!) - but.. come on people, the markets you are trying to reach have very unique interests/beliefs, so dial in the cause a bit more before you officially partner on something. If nothing else, the fact that your cause sponsorship is so relevant will take consumers by surprise (and delight).

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