Cause And Effect

Matthew Ammirati said it right: "Is it Enough to be Green? What About Being Good?" For now, greener is an advantage in the sustainability game. Soon enough, green will be a cost of entry. The reasons are becoming the 2000's mantra: Consumers are jaded; information zips through social networks faster than ever; and there are tracking systems for everything (including corporate social responsibility actions).

Many green marketing programs evolved along the cause-marketing model. Cause marketing is attaching your brand to a cause with consumer appeal and piling on media/promotion. The program typically supports change through donations to non-profits, puts a halo around the brand, and hopefully generates business results. Principally, though, it's philanthropy. It is an image game; putting on a "being good" veneer. There may be corporate concern for the adopted cause, but cause marketing generally does not directly affect the root issue.

Our world's most pressing issues -- from global warming to AIDS -- require people changing behavior more than simply writing a check. Just giving money to these causes is important but does not address the fundamental education and behavior change needed to meaningfully impact the issues.

If you had to choose between giving a small donation to an environmental organization to fight global warming, or switching to LED lights (and then getting all your friends and neighbors to switch their lights, too ... and so on), choose the physical change every time. This approach is the core difference between effect marketing (long-term behavioral changes that impact issues) and cause marketing (transactional promotions that link a business to a cause).

Sustainability demands a shift to creating an effect rather than simply marketing a cause. Before marketers can make any of the essential moves, they need to shift orientation and distinguish effect programs.

Here are some tangible examples:

  • Cause marketing is donating 10 cents for every mailed-in wrapper; effect marketing is facilitating park clean-up days.
  • Cause marketing is giving money to breast cancer research; effect marketing is teaching early diagnosis through self-exams.
  • Cause marketing is buying a certain color product to spur a donation; effect marketing is a brand providing vaccinations in Africa.

Sustainability pioneers have created business models that make social change inherent to their products. What's more, they measure their impact on both levels: social impact and profit.

Sustainability pioneers such as Ben & Jerry's and Stonyfield have created business models that make social change inherent to their products. What's more, they measure their impact on both levels: social impact and profit.

Stonyfield started selling yogurt to support its organic farming school and now it gives 10% of its profits to efforts that help protect and restore the earth such as a corporate climate rating non-profit, Climate Counts. Ben & Jerry's has three different mission statements (social, economic and product) to help it focus on all three.

Overall, today's leaders in corporate social responsibility are taking an effect-marketing approach to sustainability. They're not calling it that -- yet -- but their actions are establishing a new standard.

The key: Social change is central to every business decision of the product or service life cycle, including what constitutes effective marketing. Their marketing campaigns rally all stakeholders -- customers, employees and affiliates -- into direct action. And it's not just the biggest brands; smaller companies are making a difference, too.

While most companies can't replace business models overnight, they can take meaningful steps in the right direction. Effect marketers consider how their companies can be engines of social change by continually asking three essential questions:

1. What specific actions are we taking -- and, by design, encouraging consumers to take -- on the social issues we're committed to influencing?

2. How can we re-envision our business culture to drive social change?

3. What are we doing to measure and report the impact our business has on society, both positive and negative?

Just staring Question One in the face is enough to shift a company toward a more sustainable business model. Ultimately, though, consumers will demand that we follow through on all three questions and, likely, many more. So, are you ready to answer?

7 comments about "Cause And Effect ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Kevin Gaydosh from O'Brien et al, September 29, 2010 at 12:32 p.m.

    I'm not so sure how I feel about this article. Yeah, I get the "do it vs. talk it." But Martin takes for granted that all products being marketed have some sort of larger, inherent "green" connection to the wider world (beyond the obvious). A hypothetical situation: Say I'm a snack food marketer. Is my purpose to sell more 'Nilla Wafers or is it to close the Ozone Hole? Assuming the plant uses recycled paper for boxes, and we're cutting out waste in the mfg processes; but isn't that just good business practice, i.e. saving money? Must 'Nilla sales save the world? Wasn't it Freud who said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."(?) Sometimes, don't I just want to sell some cookies?

  2. Megan Strand, September 29, 2010 at 1:52 p.m.

    Thoughtful article - you make some good points about action being paramount in order to affect sustainable change.

    However, I disagree that cause marketing is fundamentally philanthropy. Some are but I doubt anyone would consider them effective cause marketing programs.

    The best cause marketing programs (coincidentally some from companies like those you tout as "doing it right" like Ben and Jerry's) include a "do" component. Ideally, the "do" component will extend both to consumers and to employees.

    In my mind, cause marketing is a stepping stone toward more sustainable changes in behavior. Consumers are looking for businesses to lead the way, set an example and provide education about ways they can pitch in and make a difference.

    I do, agree, however that "slacktivism" campaigns (what you call "effect marketing") are more hype than substance.


  3. David Hessekiel from Cause Marketing Forum, Inc., September 30, 2010 at 8:55 a.m.

    I applaud your advocacy for "effect" marketing, but think it's regrettable that you feel it necessary to pit action and donation against one another.

    In so many cases, companies are committed to causes but have limited outlets for making changes themselves or lack the expertise to do so. Donating to an effective nonprofit can be an excellent way to make a substantial impact.

    To build on one of your examples, 'tis a far, far better thing to link a 10 cent donation to product purchases, develop recyclable packaging AND arrange a park clean than to do only one of them.

  4. Juan Bufon from ethos , September 30, 2010 at 11:25 a.m.

    I disagree with the disagreers here. Cause marketing in general treats symptoms rather than systemic disease. Even the snack-food, pillow-top and shoelace marketers of the world, whether they recognize it or not, have an "inherent 'green' connection to the wider world." They are rooted in (and reflections of) a global culture that persists in meeting its needs and expressing its core values in unsustainable ways. Nilla can't change the world, but it can change its own unsustainable practices, which go much deeper than marketing messages.

  5. Michael Martin from Effect Partners, October 1, 2010 at 8:47 p.m.

    Kevin, to your point, selling more cookies is absolutely a business goal, but for the leading businesses today it is not the only goal. What can each company do to reduce their environmental impact and potentially positively impact their consumers?

    To use your example, by using recycled paper and reducing waste, the cookie company is likely saving money (increasing profits), and they’re also being responsible corporate citizens, which, in addition to being an obligation of all companies, is also a means to the end goal of bottom line growth. How so? Take into account the consumer’s (and the increasingly active environmental community’s) watchful eye on corporate sustainable actions; 70% of people will choose companies that are doing good things for people and the planet (See Cone, 2009).

    ‘Nilla sales don’t need to save the world, but they can (and should, for their business goals) choose to conduct business in the most sustainable manner possible, while inspiring consumers to do the same in their own lives.

    That said, I agree, cause marketing campaigns will NOT work for ALL companies and products. Because of their unique attributes, Effect marketing campaigns will work for even less situations. However, when they, do magic happens.

  6. Michael Martin from Effect Partners, October 1, 2010 at 9:24 p.m.

    Megan thanks for noticing my article and for commenting. It is clear you are committed to creating sustainable changes in behavior, so we are both on the same page-however, to be crystal clear-effect marketing is THE OPPOSITE OF “slaktivism."

    Your points actually spotlight the premise of effect marketing.

    Effect marketing campaigns include the “do” component for all parties (beyond the "just give money" premise of many cause marketing campaigns): the company, the company’s employees, and the consumers they reach. They mobilize people to actively do good.

    You mention Ben & Jerry's. A decade ago, before global warming was in the public eye, I created the award winning Ben & Jerry's Dave Matthews Band One Sweet Whirled Campaign with Ben & Jerry's, which is one of the first effect marketing campaigns ever created. The campaign was an ice cream flavor that was the name of a Dave Matthews Band hit, the name of the leading environmental organization's global warming campaign and the name of legislation being introduced in Congress.

    The flavor and campaign helped to take over one hundred thousand tons of CO2 out of the air, generated tens of thousands of letters to congress, dramatically raised national awareness of global warming AND it was one of the most successful product launches the company has done.

    Quantified social change + business growth = Effect marketing. It IS all about substance, not marketing hype.

  7. Bill Ryan, November 7, 2010 at 11:16 p.m.

    The problem with it is that it’s driven by greed. When more than half of consumers are willing to pay more for a product that donates a portion of its profits to a good cause, the temptation is just too much for many brand managers to resist.

    In many cases cause marketing is nothing more than selfish giving. A Sept 25th Brand Week article pointed out that Swiffer gave only 2 cents of the approximate $20 purchase price of their recent pink package to breast cancer. That seems kind of cheap of them, but then the article went on to say that Swiffer would only give the 2 cents if the consumer used a special coupon to make the purchase. Otherwise, no donation for that purchase.

    This is P&G – One of the world’s most reputable marketers. We can only imagine what less scrupulous marketers are doing with cause marketing.

    As business practices become more and more transparent I would expect a significant consumer backlash against the over-commercialization of cause marketing, and against the brands that have exploited worthy causes to make more profits.

    The backlash is also likely to hurt many innocent brands that have participated in cause marketing campaigns, as well as the many non-profits that have gone along with the exploitation of a cause in order to get the easy donations.

    The replacement for cause marketing will probably be civic marketing. The Tide (also P&G) “Loads of Hope” campaign is the perfect example of civic marketing – Volunteering time, talents or resources to serve the needs of the community, and then benefiting from the publicity that follows.

    Civic marketing is about doing. It’s not about fund-raising. It’s unselfish, and it can’t become over-commercialized the way cause marketing has.

Next story loading loading..