Commentary

That Fine Line: Supporting A Cause Vs. Pandering

Email is increasingly being used by brands to position a point of view in support or protest of a specific viewpoint or cause.  In today’s white-hot global political and social climate, it’s important that messages are crafted very carefully.  

Judging from the messages in my inbox this week in support of International Women’s Day, it’s clear that many brands are awkwardly fumbling for the right positioning of their stance.  

There are some simple steps you can follow to prevent these emails — quite different from your typical promotional messages — from causing you adverse effects:

Connect the dots to your brand. What does your brand actually do on a regular basis that connects with the issue/cause at hand? Identify that and run with it as a theme.

Using International Women’s Day as an example, Rent the Runway sent an excellent email with the subject line “Better Together.” The message spotlighted female employees wearing red clothing on that day, celebrating not only the company's employees and the fact that it's women-founded, but also its ambitious-in-life customers. This was a message of empowerment that tastefully connected the brand to the spirit of the day.      

Support the cause. A number of brands promote their philanthropy around awareness days/months/holidays/current events.  Corporate social responsibility is a positive aspect of your company that you should be promoting.  Take the opportunity to share what is given back to the community — and even let customers be a part of the solution.

It’s perfectly acceptable to give away a portion of proceeds during a particular time frame. Just be sure that selling isn’t the primary focus — donating to the cause is.  

Don’t sell. I can’t stress this point enough.  Customers will see right through something like pinkwashing of breast cancer products by a company to make a buck, so steer the message to focus on supporting the cause instead of promoting product. Again, the message of support is the most important thing.  

Of course, you will drive sales from interested recipients, but let that be a natural and organic behavior by your customers and not something you push. That will erode the weight of the message.

Remember how personal email is. It’s on the phone in our pocket.  It’s sent directly to us as individuals.  So you should respect the medium and the way customers perceive a message.  You may get away with putting a press release on your site without much fanfare. But  If you send an email with a poorly crafted sociopolitical message, you’d better hide under your desk from the backlash. Your customers will take it personally, so aim to delight vs. disappoint.

With the current climate, brands need to be very careful in the way they approach these special messages.  One bad move can spell a public relations disaster and isolate an entire portion of your brand’s customer universe.

What are some ways your brand has used these types of messages in recent months? If you haven’t sent a message like this, have you noticed any sterling and notable examples in your inbox?  Let me know in the comments!

P.S. In addition to following the steps above, I highly recommend reading Loren McDonald’s recent post, “Email Marketing Messages with a Message,” to see his assessment of a few sociopolitical emails, along with some practical advice.

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