Back To School & Cause: A Powerful Combination

Back-to-school is big business, and consumer surveys consistently put support of education high on the list of causes favored by the highly sought-after Mom demographic.

Put those two factors together, and it’s not surprising that Fourth of July bunting had barely been taken down before back-to-school cause-marketing campaigns started to go up this year.

Some of the earliest launches illustrate three important trends in contemporary consumer cause marketing:  advanced crowd-sourcing, the power of layering, and mixing bricks and clicks.

Advanced Crowd-sourcing:  Target – one of corporate America’s best-known supporters of K-12 education – recently launched “Give with Target,” a program that uses a traditional grant-making approach to distribute $2.5 million to 100 schools in need and crowd-sourcing to empower consumers to direct another $2.5 million by voting on the retailer’s Facebook page.   



I call this advanced crowd-sourcing because it deviates from earlier “winner takes all” programs that left many nonprofit participants with zilch in rewards for having expended time and effort activating their supporters to vote.  

“Give with Target” rewards schools with a $25 Target gift card for every 25 votes they receive (up to a maximum of $10,000 per school and a generous $2.5 million cap.)  Rewarding so many schools should generate a tremendous number of loyalty-breeding announcements by participating school booster organizations.

The Power of Layering:  As part of its complete marketing overhaul, jcpenney has expanded its JCP Cares program in many ways. For back to school, it layered a unique consumer offer – free haircuts to K-6 students – with a $1 per haircut donation to either the Boys & Girls Clubs of America or 4-H (up to $50,000).

Combining altruistic and personal incentives appears to be gaining steam as an effective marketing combination.  As MSLGROUP SVP Anne Erhard told attendees at this year’s Cause Marketing Forum conference: “The smartest cause marketers are tying in actual hard incentives and value adds to further encourage participation and basically guarantee greater success.” Examples include redeemable coupons, promotion codes, loyalty points or bragging rights on a badge of honor such as inclusion on an online listing of top program participants.

Mixing Bricks and Clicks:  Mall operator General Growth Properties has teamed up with on “Celebrate Schools!,” a program that plays to their respective offline (“bricks”) and online (“clicks”) strengths.

In September, more than 120 GGP malls will offer to match up to $300,000 in shopper donations to provide supplies to schools via Shoppers can participate via in-mall stations that will also enable them to sign up for GGP’s preferred shopper club and also nominate a local elementary or high school to be entered in a drawing for a $20,000 reward.    

The giving platform makes it easy for consumers to direct their giving to virtually any school in America while the in-mall promotion will make thousands of people aware of and move them to donate.

Keep those concepts – advanced crowd-sourcing, layering, and mixing bricks and clicks – in mind, and your next back to school cause-marketing effort will have a much better chance of earning an A.

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