Cause Marketing: 3 Best Practices For Brands Supporting Good Causes

Con­sumer expec­ta­tions are high­er than ever, so cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty is a must for brands.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Late­ly, a num­ber of brands have announced part­ner­ships with char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions and it’s no won­der: Research abounds (e.g., this study) demon­strat­ing that social good is impor­tant to con­sumers in gen­er­al and mil­len­ni­als in par­tic­u­lar.

In press releas­es, brands wax lyri­cal about the con­nec­tion between their cor­po­rate ethos and the caus­es in ques­tion, whether it’s con­ser­va­tion, ani­mal rights, or spir­i­tu­al enlight­en­ment. How­ev­er, not every effort has been met with unbri­dled fan enthu­si­asm.

So, as cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty becomes more of a must-have for brands, what can mar­keters do to ensure their char­i­ta­ble efforts ring true?


Per research from Cone Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a pub­lic rela­tions and mar­ket­ing agency with focus on cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty, con­sumers have a nat­ur­al propen­si­ty to switch brands to those asso­ci­at­ed with good caus­es – and inter­est in this area has only risen over the past 20 years. Fur­ther, Cone has found only 7 per­cent of Amer­i­cans believe busi­ness­es exist to make mon­ey for share­hold­ers and are not respon­si­ble for sup­port­ing social or envi­ron­men­tal caus­es.

Not only do con­sumers expect com­pa­nies to address these issues, they have more pos­i­tive images of these com­pa­nies and are more like­ly to trust them and be loy­al to them, said Whit­ney Dai­ley, super­vi­sor of CSR Insights and Intel at Cone.

In addi­tion, mil­len­ni­als are even more like­ly to switch to brands tied to good caus­es and are more will­ing to do research and to take to social to learn about and engage around these brands as well, Dai­ley added.

Mil­len­ni­als have grown up with cause mar­ket­ing,” she said. “It’s almost a cost of doing busi­ness.”

Anne Fajon, a Boston-based cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty pro­fes­sion­al, agrees.

I think the pri­ma­ry rea­son for this is that mil­len­ni­als grew up in the infor­ma­tion age, where the Inter­net and social media forced trans­paren­cy – for bet­ter and for worse – for com­pa­nies. Mil­len­ni­als came of age dur­ing the Enron scan­dal, and they now expect more from com­pa­nies – they want to work for com­pa­nies with a strong sense of ethics, that oper­ate trans­par­ent­ly and respon­si­bly, act as a pos­i­tive agent of change in their com­mu­ni­ties, and give back,” Fajon said. “They also real­ize that com­pa­nies today have more tools at their dis­pos­al than ever to make a dif­fer­ence – they’re more glob­al than ever, with few­er lan­guage bar­ri­ers, more tech­nol­o­gy, and greater access to NGO and pub­lic pri­vate part­ner­ships.”

Brands Doing Social Good

Accord­ing to Cone, about 80 per­cent of For­tune 250 com­pa­nies have a brand­ed cause pro­gram and an aver­age of three cause pro­gram announce­ments are made each day.

In oth­er words, you real­ly don’t have to look far for exam­ples of brands doing char­i­ta­ble work.

The North Face

Take out­door prod­uct com­pa­ny The North Face, for exam­ple. It recent­ly announced a part­ner­ship to “pro­tect, pre­serve and cel­e­brate pub­lic lands” in sup­port of the 21st Cen­tu­ry Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice Corps, or 21CSC, an orga­ni­za­tion that describes itself as “a bold nation­al effort to put young Amer­i­cans and vet­er­ans to work pro­tect­ing, restor­ing and enhanc­ing America’s great out­doors.”

The North Face says it is mak­ing a dona­tion of $250,000 and launched a new cam­paign, fea­tur­ing a record­ing of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” by My Morn­ing Jack­et, which is avail­able to down­load from iTunes. Accord­ing to a release, My Morn­ing Jack­et will donate its por­tion of the pro­ceeds as well.

The spot debuted on YouTube on Octo­ber 27 and has about 54,000 views as of Novem­ber 11.

Based on a very unsci­en­tif­ic review of the com­ments, most view­ers seem hap­py with the effort and the ad itself, although there are some detrac­tors that take issue with the brand­ed aspect, such as the com­menter that writes, “I doubt Woody him­self would enjoy see­ing one of his best works being used to sling over­priced gear to week­end war­riors.”

The North Face exists to inspire peo­ple to explore,” Pres­i­dent Todd Spalet­to said in a pre­pared state­ment. “If you can inspire peo­ple to love the out­doors, they will grow to care about their nat­ur­al world, pro­tect­ing and con­serv­ing the places that many of us know as our play­grounds. We are extreme­ly proud to raise aware­ness, sup­port the 21CSC and moti­vate peo­ple to reimag­ine explo­ration in their own lives.”

Harley-Davidson

And then there’s motor­cy­cle man­u­fac­tur­er Harley-David­son, which announced it was team­ing up with envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion The Nature Con­ser­van­cy and “mobi­liz­ing its glob­al com­mu­ni­ty of rid­ers to raise funds to plant 50 mil­lion trees world­wide by 2025 as part of its Renew the Ride  ini­tia­tive.”

Per a release, Renew the Ride is “ded­i­cat­ed to the goal of pre­serv­ing the open road for future gen­er­a­tions of rid­ers.”

The brand says it has com­mit­ted to “con­tribut­ing a series of annu­al grants total­ing $550,000 in sup­port of The Nature Conservancy’s glob­al Plant a Bil­lion Trees pro­gram,” a for­est restora­tion ini­tia­tive that has refor­est­ed more than 14,000 acres of land and plant­ed and restored more than 14 mil­lion trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Rain­for­est since 2008. The focus has been to restore the world’s most crit­i­cal forests with spe­cial focus in Brazil, the Yun­nan and Sichuan provinces in Chi­na and through­out the U.S., the brand adds.

In addi­tion, Harley said it plant­ed 1,000 lon­gleaf pine trees in South Quay, Vir­ginia in Octo­ber and the brand has com­mit­ted to sup­port the plant­i­ng of an esti­mat­ed 200 acres or 110,000 trees over the next few months.

Harley notes this is a good fit because approx­i­mate­ly one-third of U.S. Harley own­ers already belong to or sup­port a con­ser­va­tion orga­ni­za­tion.

A cen­tral part of motor­cy­cling is expe­ri­enc­ing the great out­doors; to see the world from behind the han­dle­bars is unlike any­thing else,” said Mark-Hans Rich­er, Harley’s chief mar­ket­ing offi­cer, in a release.

American Eagle Outfitters

What’s more, cloth­ing and acces­sories retail­er Amer­i­can Eagle Out­fit­ters launched a cloth­ing line for dogs and their own­ers, Amer­i­can Bea­gle Out­fit­ters, which includes “an assort­ment of coor­di­nat­ing looks for the AEO guy, girl and now their dog,” in an effort that start­ed out as a “fun April Fools’ Day prank dreamed up in the spir­it of fundrais­ing for the Amer­i­can Soci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­el­ty to Ani­mals,” per a press release.

Fol­low­ing the announce­ment of Amer­i­can Bea­gle Out­fit­ters on March 24, 2014, the brand says it donat­ed $100,000 to the ASPCA. How­ev­er, it wasn’t imme­di­ate­ly clear if Amer­i­can Eagle plans to make an addi­tion­al dona­tion as a result of actu­al sales from the dog cloth­ing line.

A video announc­ing the line has more than 300,000 views as of Novem­ber 11, but the blog post has no com­ments, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to gauge con­sumer sen­ti­ment.

Lululemon Athletica

Lululemon Dalai LamaAlso note­wor­thy is yoga cloth­ing brand lul­ule­mon ath­let­i­ca inc., which part­nered with the Dalai Lama Cen­ter for Peace + Edu­ca­tion, say­ing it will work on “a vari­ety of ini­tia­tives includ­ing research­ing the con­nec­tion between mind-body-heart, shar­ing the work glob­al­ly, and expand­ing the reach of the Center’s Heart-Mind edu­ca­tion ini­tia­tives.”

In addi­tion, lul­ule­mon said it will con­tribute CAD $250,000 (or about USD $220,000) annu­al­ly over the next three years to sup­port the Dalai Lama Center’s work.

Accord­ing to a press release, both orga­ni­za­tions “share a com­mon vision for devel­op­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of com­pas­sion­ate lead­ers in the world and are com­mit­ted to engag­ing and empow­er­ing healthy com­mu­ni­ties” and the part­ner­ship will enable the brand and Cen­ter to “build the capac­i­ty for com­mu­ni­ties to pro­mote mind­ful­ness, or a non-judg­men­tal aware­ness on the present moment, to fos­ter heart-mind well­be­ing in chil­dren and youth.”

But reac­tion was mixed on the Lul­ule­mon blog, with some fans voic­ing sup­port of the part­ner­ship and oth­ers not­ing, “There are some things in this world which should remain non-bran­de­able [sic],” and, “While I do respect his beliefs and val­ues, I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly think they match yours. As he believes that lux­u­ries are not neces­si­ties, you believe in $100 yoga pants.”

How Can Brands Support Good Causes?

So, giv­en the research and hand­ful of real-life exam­ples, what lessons can brands glean about cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty cam­paigns?

1. There Has To Be A Legit Tie Between The Brand And The Cause

Cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty efforts can back­fire when they’re mis­aligned with the brand and its busi­ness, or when a com­pa­ny is try­ing to make a big splash with a social impact cam­paign with­out address­ing under­ly­ing rep­u­ta­tion­al issues, Fajon said. That includes fur­ther exam­ples like oil­field ser­vices com­pa­ny Bak­er Hugh­es and its pink drill bits ben­e­fit­ing Susan G. Komen, she said.

We always stress with our clients that it’s a good thing to have an align­ment between the brand and the impact effort,” Dai­ley adds. “I think specif­i­cal­ly, on a super­fi­cial lev­el, the align­ment with the Dalai Lama Cen­ter makes sense giv­en the fact that Lul­ule­mon sells yoga cloth­ing, but there may have been an oppor­tu­ni­ty to address some crit­i­cism with their choice of part­ners.”

In oth­er words, Dai­ly sug­gests a “more strate­gic approach to phil­an­thropy could have been help­ful,” and that the brand might have been bet­ter served in align­ing itself with a cause that sup­ports women’s issues like self-esteem and empow­er­ment.

Anoth­er exam­ple of a brand­ed effort that back­fired – coin­ci­den­tal­ly for breast can­cer — is KFC’s Buck­ets for the Cure, which the quick-ser­vice chain launched dur­ing Breast Can­cer Aware­ness Month in 2010.

Con­sumers are sophis­ti­cat­ed and kind of want to know what impact it will have on the issue and how the issue relates back to the brand,” Dai­ley adds.

2. Clearly Communicate The Details

Anoth­er thing Cone stress­es is help­ing con­sumers under­stand their per­son­al impact and the impact of the cam­paign as a whole, Dai­ley said.

Mak­ing a dona­tion is impor­tant, but being able to report back on how [the brand] moved the nee­dle is extreme­ly impor­tant,” Dai­ley adds, point­ing to Target’s Feed cam­paign, which Dai­ley said was very clear on how many meals would be pro­vid­ed as a result of con­sumers buy­ing cer­tain prod­ucts.

That helps con­sumers under­stand, ‘If I pur­chase this prod­uct, this is the impact,’” Dai­ley said. “Con­sumers, again, as they become more sophis­ti­cat­ed are look­ing for cues at point of pur­chase.”

In addi­tion, she said the New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al came out with cause mar­ket­ing guide­lines, which are good best prac­tices in terms of how brands can be trans­par­ent with their cause mar­ket­ing efforts.

Mak­ing it real­ly clear how much mon­ey goes to the cause and how that mon­ey is used is very impor­tant,” Dai­ley said. “Say­ing, ‘We sup­port X,’ isn’t going to cut it. They want to know, ‘If I buy this, how much am I con­tribut­ing?’”

3. Report Back To Consumers What Exactly Was Achieved

Dai­ley points to Star­bucks’ Cre­ate Jobs for USA cam­paign, which was very easy for con­sumers to under­stand as 100 per­cent of the pur­chase of a bracelet went to the Oppor­tu­ni­ty Finance Net­work, which helps pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties that ben­e­fit low-income, low-wealth, and oth­er dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties across Amer­i­ca.

At the campaign’s con­clu­sion, Star­bucks worked with the non­prof­it to cre­ate a 20-page report that looked at its suc­cess­es and fail­ures and “how they moved the nee­dle with pub­lic inter­est aware­ness and how many jobs were cre­at­ed,” Dai­ley said. “So that was a land­mark moment in a com­pa­ny work­ing with a non­prof­it part­ner to cre­ate a feed­back loop and report back on suc­cess.”

Oth­er brands can sim­ply com­mu­ni­cate with con­sumers in oth­er ways, such as a real-time tick­er on a web­site or a col­lage with images of those impact­ed by the effort in ques­tion.


Do you have any addi­tion­al tips on how brands can ace cause mar­ket­ing cam­paigns?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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