Column: The Buzz -- Give and You'll Receive

Today's consumers expect advertising and marketing programs to give a little to a good cause. Aging boomers appreciate it, emerging tweens expect it, and everyone in between admires it. Cause marketing campaigns can transform consumer packaged goods manufacturers (Ben & Jerry's), beauty brands (Avon), and purveyors of coffee (Starbucks) from capitalist behemoths into community-friendly businesses.

Although skeptics may question a business's true intentions and smear a goodwill effort as a public relations ploy, companies use cause marketing to make real progress on a vast spectrum of issues. By aligning themselves with charitable partners, these companies also join their target audience by giving back.

Some campaigns actually make customers' lives easier. For example, most people consider it a chore to get rid of old clothes. Banana Republic gave us a great incentive to clean out our closets this summer  and an easy way to get rid of our gently worn castoffs  when it launched its "Drop Your Pants" campaign. The project had something to satisfy everyone. A customer who brought in an old pair of pants got a discount on a new pair. The store donated the old pants to Goodwill, benefiting both Banana Republic and the charity. And shoppers got something extra, beyond a price cut: the intangible pleasure that comes from contributing to charity, a benefit some companies are learning to offer their customers.

A cause marketing campaign may require some faith on the part of the consumer, who must believe in the company's commitment to a mission. But a gesture of faith, if respected by a company, often matures into trust and then loyalty, expanding a company's base. To earn that initial leap of faith, a company has to make its cause marketing transparent.

Avon, for example, took on a mission to fight breast cancer. Each year, the company invites us to take an "Avon Walk" to help raise money for research. If the company were to suspend its fight for the cause, it would breach the trust of supporters who joined it in the mission. Adapting a brand to align it with a worthy cause is not exactly a risk, but it does bring with it a certain responsibility.

Radio Taxis, a British company, has gone from incorporating a cause into marketing efforts to developing an entire business model around it. The London-based taxi service with more than 2,500 cars, has branded itself the world's first carbon-neutral taxi company. The company measures the carbon pollutants its cars emit, and then invests proportionally in air-cleansing projects, from forestry to renewable energy. The project offsets the taxis' pollution, making them an appealing choice for riders who want to reduce London's smog, a high-profile issue in that city. Radio Taxis developed a way to help Londoners contribute to a cause without changing their daily habits  they're still taking a cab, but it's a more eco-friendly one.

A cause marketing campaign can associate a brand with a mission worth fighting for. But there are also cases where the cause becomes a brand itself.

Breast Cancer Month is a great example. Every October, dozens of brands participate in an awareness campaign that reaches millions of consumers. Whether it's a cosmetic company selling a pink lipstick or a Beverly Hills boutique showcasing a pink sweater, the uniform branding campaign associates all of them with a great cause.

Finally, cause marketing can cement the relationship between a brand and the greater good. It did just that for MAC Cosmetics. Many view the MAC AIDS Fund as one of the industry's best cause marketing campaigns. Not only does the campaign feature celebrities such as Pamela Anderson and Missy Elliott, it includes a grass-roots element. MAC 's "Kids Helping Kids" initiative invites children to create greeting cards, which MAC sells during the holiday season to benefit children with HIV/AIDS. To date, the MAC AIDS Fund has raised more than $67 million.

Cause marketing can and should be a component of all marketing campaigns. It may not always be easy to create the perfect relationship, but a marketer can ask for nothing better than knowing that customers feel committed to the brand on a deep level. Cause marketing ensures that customers experience a connection to the bigger picture.

Tina Wells is CEO and Samuel C. Wilson is director of strategy at Buzz Marketing Group. ( and

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