Cause marketing or cause-related marketing refers to a type of marketing involving the cooperative efforts of a for-profit business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit. The term is sometimes used more broadly and generally to refer to any type of marketing effort for social and other charitable causes, including in-house marketing efforts by non-profit organizations. Cause marketing differs from corporate giving (philanthropy), as the latter generally involves a specific donation that is tax-deductible, while cause marketing is a marketing relationship not necessarily based on a donation.
The first known case of cause marketing in America was in March, 1974 when Carr & Associates International was formed by John T. Carr as a way of "giving back" by engaging Charitable Causes and Businesses to support each other. The organization was promoted by John T. Carr's focus on enlisting businesses to give back referral fees on what they might normally spend for marketing; and having those funds redirected toward the Charitable Cause of the buyer's choice.
In 1976, the first major cause marketing campaign was executed through a partnership between the Marriott Corporation and the March of Dimes. Marriott's objective was to generate highly cost-effective public relations and media coverage for the opening of their 200-acre (0.81 km2) family entertainment center, Marriott's Great America in Santa Clara, CA. The March of Dimes's objective was to greatly increase fundraising while motivating the collection of pledges by the program’s deadline. The promotion was conducted simultaneously in 67 cities throughout the Western United States. This cause marketing campaign and partnership raised an unprecedented $2.4 million to become the most successful promotion in the history of Chapters West of the March of Dimes, while providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in free publicity and stimulating a 2.2 million person attendance, a regional theme park record, for the opening year of the Marriott entertainment complex.
The program was conceived and directed by Bruce Burtch. Burtch has been hailed the "Father of Cause Marketing" by the Cause Marketing Forum, the industry's primary association. Burtch is credited with coining the phrase, "Do well by doing good", a term now ubiquitous in the cause marketing field, which was his answer to the CEO of a major corporate foundation when asked what his goal in life was in 1977. Over the past three decades Burtch's work expanded far beyond cause marketing as he developed an international reputation for developing and training cross-sector partnerships - partnerships between two or more partners from the nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sectors. His research has discovered nearly 70 distinct benefits that partners can receive in a cross-sector partnership.
Another of the first examples of a cause-related marketing campaign was initiated in 1979 by Rosica, Mulhern & Associates for Famous Amos cookies. In this campaign, Wally Amos became the National Spokesperson for the Literacy Volunteers of America. According to the organization, Wally has alerted more people to the illiteracy problem than any other person in history. This strategic cause marketing tie-in helped to tell the Famous Amos Cookie story while maintaining visibility, and is responsible for many new and expanded literacy programs. This case study is now used in university classrooms nationwide as an example of successful "cause-related marketing". In 1982 Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure was an early pioneer of cause marketing, allowing millions to participate in the fight against breast cancer through businesses that share Komen's commitment to end the disease.
The recent interest in cause-related marketing is generally argued to stem from American Express, who apparently coined the phrase in 1983. Following various pilot schemes in 1981, American Express developed a campaign which donated funds to a number of different non-profit organizations as part of the San Francisco Arts Festival. Essentially every time someone used an American Express Card in the area, a 2-cent donation was triggered and each time new members applied for a card a larger contribution was made. The marketing goals that American Express had for this programme were apparently exceeded. Card usage was reported as having increased significantly and relationships between American Express and their merchants also improved as a result of the promotion. From the charity's point of view, despite being a short-term campaign, $108,000 was raised, making a significant contribution to their work. The terms "cause-related marketing" and "cause marketing" continued to grow in usage since that time. In more recent years the term has come to describe a wider variety of marketing initiatives based on the cooperative efforts of business and charitable causes.
According to a report published by onPhilanthropy, cause marketing sponsorship by American businesses is rising at a dramatic rate. Citing an IEG, Inc. study, $1.11 billion was spent in 2005, an estimated $1.34 billion will be spent in 2006, and the number is expected to rise further in 2007. As an update, IEG reported that cause grew 3.9% to reach $1.85 billion in 2014. For 2015 they forecast 3.7% growth for cause to reach $1.92 billion.
Cause-related marketing is a powerful marketing tool that business and nonprofit organizations are increasingly leveraging. According to the Cone Millennial Cause Study in 2006, 89% of Americans (aged 13 to 25) would switch from one brand to another brand of a comparable product (and price) if the latter brand was associated with "good cause". The same study also indicated that a significant percentage surveyed would prefer to work for a company that was considered socially responsible. This can be linked to the increase in workplace giving programs. Earlier studies by Cone indicate an upward trend in the number of Americans who associate their own buying habits with cause marketing as well as an expectation that those companies to be "good corporate citizens". These studies also show a substantial increase from just before to just after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Numerous other studies have also been conducted to show that cause-related marketing has helped to increase a company's profits. For example, in the cause marketing campaign by American Express (to which the term "cause marketing" is attributed), the company saw a 17% increase in new users and a 28% increase in card usage. Evidence shows that CSR voluntarily initiated by firms will result in more opportunities for profit than CSR mandated by the government.
The possible benefits of cause marketing for nonprofit organizations include an increased ability to promote the nonprofit organization's cause via the greater financial resources of a business, and an increased ability to reach possible supporters through a company's customer base. The possible benefits of cause marketing for business include positive public relations, improved customer relations, additional marketing opportunities, and making more money. These benefits occur because this marketing model gives the consumer the feeling of being a philanthropist while doing something as simple as buying a pair of shoes.
Online cause marketing
Although originally a marketing strategy that occurred offline, cause marketing has been conducted more and more through online channels in the last decade. This is due in part to the increasing percentage of households with internet connections. As with other types of marketing campaigns, companies can leverage online marketing channels along with other offline channels such as print and media. (Sometimes referred to as integrated marketing).
The advent of online cause marketing has allowed consumers, for example, those who are loyalty program members, to take a far more active role in cause marketing. This is democratized transactional giving. It means consumers, rather than companies, decide which causes to support and advocate for. An example of how this works could be a company allowing its loyalty program members to convert unredeemed rewards, such as points or miles, into cash donations to causes of the customers' own choosing, rather than have the company select the charities. An online platform is necessary to connect the customers to a large-enough selection of charities.
Online charity auctions
In recent years, online auctions have been used in cause marketing strategies using a number of different online auction platforms. Companies have created programs to help sellers and corporations donate a percentage of their sales to a nonprofit organization through the use of auctions. Businesses and nonprofit organizations can also use the program for cause marketing and nonprofit fundraising programs.
Companies and charities can not only raise money through online auctions, but create awareness for a specific cause or charity. Online auction bidders can view photos, descriptions and suggested bids of items online, as opposed to items in a showroom. Most online auctions use a style of bidding called proxy bidding, in which the online system makes bids for the actual participant in increments up to the maximum bidding amount set by the participant.
Alternatively, many online auctions are manual auctions, in which the participant comments or posts their bid themselves before a particular ending auction time. Sometimes, participants will call or email their bid to the online auctioneer, with the auctioneer updating the auction in real time. This type of charity auction works best for auctions with fewer items, or auctions with an expectation for fewer bids.
Cause marketing can take on many forms, including:
Transactional Campaigns: A corporate donation triggered by a consumer action (e.g. sharing a message social media, making a purchase, etc.)
Point of Sale Campaigns: A donation solicited by a company at the point of sale but made by the consumer (e.g. consumers are asked to round up their purchase or donate a dollar when they check out online or in-stores)
Message-Focused Campaigns: Business resources are used to share a cause-focused message. For example a campaign that encourages behavior change (e.g. don't text and drive), drives awareness about an important cause (e.g. talking with elderly parents about driving) or encourages consumer action (e.g. signing a petition to save whales from captivity).
- One example of cause-marketing would be the partnership of Yoplait's "Save Lids to Save Lives" campaign in support of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The company packages specific products with a pink lid that consumers turn in, and in turn Yoplait donates 10 cents for each lid.
- DICK's Sports Matters was launched in 2014 to raise awareness about the issue of underfunded youth athletics and create a crowd-funding platform through which selected youth sports teams could raise money from supporters and earn a matching grant through the DICK's Sporting Goods Foundation.
- An example of a nonprofit certification of a product (business) includes the American Heart Association's stamp of approval on Cheerios, the popular breakfast cereal. The American Heart food certification program grants use of its "Heart Check" icon and name to dozens of cereals and juices meaning that that product meets the Associations' low-fat, low-cholesterol standards
- In 2007, Singapore Airlines launched a cause marketing campaign attracting over 35 million unique visitors across 23 countries to bring awareness to Doctors Without Borders. With the launch of the world's first A380, Singapore Airlines—with the assistance of Vonality Inc—launched an online auction for all seats on the historic first flight all in support of charity.
- Launched in early 2006, Product Red is an example of one of the largest cause-related marketing campaigns to date given the number of companies and organizations involved as participants as well as its reach worldwide. It is also an example of a cause marketing campaign that is also a brand on its own. Product Red was created to support The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (aka "The Global Fund") and includes companies such as Apple Computer, Motorola, Giorgio Armani, and The Gap as participants.
- The startup VivaHub has piloted a website in North Carolina that partners local businesses with nonprofits to drive business and generate philanthropic support and community engagement at the same time. Among other nonprofits, the Durham Arts Council in Durham, NC has completed several campaigns on the platform.
- For the small business market, Communities For Cause has created an app and website where local merchants and consumers can help support local charities. The mission of the company is "connecting the causes you care about with the places you shop."
- The aerie REAL movement is a social cause campaign that promotes natural beauty. Using its signature hashtag, the company garners the attention of millions on Twitter and Instagram. When users upload an image of themselves and tag it with #aerieREAL, they are promoting aerie’s brand and products to their friends and family. In doing so, they are performing free labor as brand ambassadors. Aerie is using social media to create a new opportunity for re-branding. Supporters have embraced the brand message and joined together as an online community. Aerie’s Twitter and Instagram communities are engaging in peer production by supporting the aerie REAL cause with their uploads, shares, likes and comments. Yochai Benkler would argue that aerie is engaging in ideological work by investing in a good cause, but also relying on its social media fans to serve as activists for its healthy body image campaign. By targeting "the average woman," Aerie uses real people and real stories to strengthen their brand image.
- Started in 2004 by Unilever brand, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is an example of a cause marketing program that uses viral marketing to spread a message that connects back to the core product; in this case, skin care products. The campaign has used real women as models, had sketch artists to draw the faces of women as they describe themselves and challenged women to choose a door based on their perceived appearance. While this type of cause marketing does not raise funds, it does raise awareness of an issue.
- Corporate Social Responsibility
- Corporate image
- Foundation (charity)
- List of marketing topics
- Non-profit organization
- Public relations
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- The Cause Marketing Forum (training, education and annual conference focused exclusively on cause marketing)
- List of Noted Organizations and Foundations promoting Business-Nonprofit Partnerships
- Cause Related Marketing Survey Report
- Where Does Cause Marketing Go From Here - IEG Sponsorship Report Article
- Nancy Brinker: CEO of Komen for the Cure - Pioneer Profile
- Cause Marketing Halo Award Winners since 2003