Commentary

Winning Over Skeptics With Cause Marketing

There’s a lot of noise in the marketing airwaves these days about doing good. Non-profits want to build strong connections with consumers. And more brands than ever seem to be aligning themselves with a cause or building good deeds right into their businesses. But what do teens think about all this cause marketing?

We reached out to more than two dozen teens and found them passionate about making the world a better place. Even more amazing, every single one reported being involved in volunteer work. A recent MTV survey even backs up our findings. The network found that 86% of Millennials think it’s important to do “something meaningful with my life,” and 66% said it was important to help “those who are less fortunate in your community.”

But there’s also skepticism underlying all this passion. When we asked teens to name charities they know, some had a hard time coming up with any names at all. They weren’t loyal to one cause, and a few even expressed skepticism about how much companies do to benefit the world. As one teen told us, “Sometimes companies only donate 2% of the proceeds to the actual cause. I would rather volunteer seeing the change actually happen than trusting a company that might not even benefit the cause.”

So how do you grab the attention of skeptical teens and win them over?

Leverage Colors and Icons

Several of the teens we interviewed struggled to name a single charity without turning to Google. But the most popular answers from teens? Names that leverage a signature color or memorable icon. Some teens described the pink ribbon to us before mentioning breast cancer. (RED), the AIDS charity, was named by a number of teens along with American Red Cross and its iconic red cross symbol. 

Turn to Star Power

The right celebrity gives a big push to your cause, and makes it memorable. A couple of teen girls kept mentioning Justin Bieber to us before coming up with the name Pencils of Promise. This education charity is giving away a school visit from the pop star with a compelling challenge: “Every $25 you give educates one child, and earns you one chance to win a visit from Justin.” 

Don’t Forget Quality and Fashion

Nearly all the teens told us they’d buy goods that benefit a good cause, and most are even willing to spend a bit more on these items. But they told us quality counts. And it needs to be desirable on-trend merchandise. “It makes the product more appealing if some of the proceeds go to charity,” one teen told us. “But if I don't want the product, then I would donate my money to a charity myself.” 

Show the Movement. Show the Results.

TOMS, a favorite among teens we interviewed, wins fans with simple, powerful storytelling: “With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need.” And the Spring 2013 online catalog makes joining the TOMS movement irresistible. Still images and embedded videos show children in Cambodia receiving shoes and highlight all the charitable work of TOMS’ local giving partners. It tells the emotional story and makes consumers feel like they were part of the trip. 

So is your cause marketing memorable as it could be? Are you telling a convincing story?

4 comments about "Winning Over Skeptics With Cause Marketing".
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  1. Sandra Lawrence from btg design, March 7, 2013 at 11:39 a.m.

    Love your insight and I too believe that today's millennials not only will support familiar brands with a cause but also want to go beyond just the facebook "like" and engage in brand related experience that may impact their community and beyond. The causes that have great impacts are those that support locally and reach globally.

  2. Maruchi Santana from Parham Santana, March 7, 2013 at 1:46 p.m.

    Sandra, great insights. All the teens we talk to have to do community service for school credit yearly. What the teens have found in the process is that once they start volunteering they don't count hours anymore and they continue helping out because it feels so good. We have a rising generation that understands the power of giving and community service. Love it!

  3. Lauren Miele from Fashion Institute of Technology , March 7, 2013 at 10:07 p.m.

    I enjoyed reading your blog post regarding teens relating to cause marketing. I agree 100% that teens are not loyal to one cause, however do show interest in wanting to give back. I think you are completely right on how to grab the attention of these skeptical teenagers with graphic elements such as logos and icons, celebrity attachment, quality and fashion and showing a movement. Being a soon-to-be college graduate, when I think of non for profit organizations and cause marketing, the pink ribbon icon for Breast Cancer and the TOMS "buy one give one" movement are the first that come to mind. I think more of these charities should make their organization one to remember.

  4. Maruchi Santana from Parham Santana, March 8, 2013 at 1:10 p.m.

    We are visual society where colors and symbols sometimes speak louder than words. Thank you for your insights Lauren, hopefully this article will make companies re-think their branding approach going forward in order to win your generation's attention!

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