Cause marketing – the marketing practice of for-profit companies seeking to increase profits while bettering society through activist messaging and other marketing tactics – has been around since the 1970s.
Experts argue over what was the first “cause marketing” campaign. Some say it was 7-Eleven donating proceeds from the sale of specifically-designed “Endangered Species” cups to the National Wildlife Federation in 1973; others say it was the formation of Carr & Associates International to engage businesses and charitable causes to help each other in 1974.
Whenever it started, it is certainly a practice that works and one that is prevalent today. Whether it is the call to donate at check-out; a portion of purchase proceeds going to cause; or message promotion on products and services; it seems everyone everywhere is in on cause marketing.
Today as we struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, and embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s no surprise we see related cause marketing. From alleviating employee hardship to backing black-owned businesses and causes, businesses are reaching out to help and show their support.
However, cause marketing can be tricky in these times. While cause marketing blends making a profit with making the world a better place, the emphasis on helping others – not a business – must be first and foremost for it to work effectively in today’s climate.
In a recent article about cause marketing Forbes indicated the pandemic is a huge opportunity to increase value with the right marketing, but it provided a strong caveat: Consumers don’t want to hear anything about a business unless it can help them or individuals or organizations they care about.
Mike Shaheen, an opinion contributor for AdWeek goes further, telling companies basically “to knock it off.” He argues the best thing for brands and marketers to do is to not focus on creating a new campaign but on doing something to help.
At the end of the day, it isn’t about having a creative campaign or message. Loyalty is built through making meaningful connections. What will be remembered are those companies that made needed products and services accessible and affordable.