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Cause Marketing: Are Shoppers Caused Out?


Donna SuttonDonna Sutton

Posted on Friday, October 12th, 2012

Have you ever purchased a product because it supports breast cancer, or because it featured an Olympic athlete, such as Ryan Lochte, on the packaging? As marketers, we must be aware of which emotions are more likely to resonate with shoppers. In today’s retail environment, shoppers must decide what promotions provide the most value. There are several different strategies that CPG marketers use to increase sales, including associating consumer products with specific causes, events or giveaways.

According to Wikipedia, cause marketing refers to “a type of marketing involving the cooperative efforts of a ‘for profit’ business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit.” Breast cancer awareness is one of the most prevalent causes associated with consumer products. Each October, and increasingly throughout the year, marketers coat their products in pink and donate a portion of their proceeds to research. Similarly, companies that release limited-edition products surrounding major events like the Olympics also rely on the power of cause marketing campaigns to provoke an emotional response that will influence shopper behavior.

Lately, some marketers have begun to question the effectiveness of cause marketing, wondering if it is any more influential than other promotional vehicles, such as coupons. While many companies have turned to cause marketing, some marketers wonder if “cause fatigue” has set in.  Recent research indicates that as cause marketing becomes more pervasive, some shoppers are starting to consider it gimmicky and disingenuous. To address this concern, Think Before You Pink, a project of Breast Cancer Action, launched in 2002 to address the increasing amount of pink ribbon products on the market. The campaign seeks more transparency from companies participating in breast cancer fundraising, and it advises shoppers to critically evaluate pink ribbon promotions.

Additionally, while consumers do believe CPG brands’ support of breast cancer has raised awareness of the cause, recent studies indicate that shoppers are concerned that the extensive support of breast cancer awareness overshadows other important causes. One mother, whose daughter has melanoma, was quoted in a recent USA Today article, and wishes this serious form of skin cancer “got even a fraction of the attention and funding.”

Several simple steps to overcome ineffective cause marketing programs include:

  • Choose a charity for the cause marketing campaign based on relevance to the product involved
  • Choose a charity that has achieved measureable results
  • Tell shoppers what charity the brand is marketing with and why
  • Provide shoppers with information about how much money the charity will receive through the campaign and how the charity will use the funds
  • Publish follow up information after the campaign ends

Oversaturation aside, it may no longer be enough for marketers to simply attach a specific cause to their brand – it’s time to get creative! Yoplait’s effort to raise awareness for breast cancer, “Saving Lids to Save Lives,” incorporated a more personal approach that included painting one woman’s house pink to honor the four friends she lost to breast cancer. Yoplait has donated a total of over $30 million in the last fourteen years.

Are consumers really more likely to purchase something because a certain percentage of the proceeds benefit a particular cause? Or, at the end of the day, would they just rather have a coupon and/or receive a giveaway upon purchase? It may be time for marketers to reevaluate their programs and revamp cause marketing as we know it.  What causes tug at your heartstrings?

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3 Responses for "Cause Marketing: Are Shoppers Caused Out?"

  1. Ronda Sims November 1st, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    In general, I believe that politically and socially conscious consumers are mindful of proceeds benefits going towards particular causes. However, I’ve heard many consumers express their concern of the “overkill” campaign on Breast Cancer Research. They believe that it’s become a marketing scheme and aren’t exactly sure if the money is really going to help the cause.

    Also, I’ve heard many express, “if there’s this much support, why is breast cancer is in existence, why aren’t we any closer to a cure”. To be quit honest, I’m beginning to wonder the same sentiment. I’m starting to think that this so-called research is only profiting Susan Kohlman’s CEOs, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies.

    Moreover, I believe that most consumers would rather spend their money of a well know brand name product with a proven success rate. If reputable companys continue to offer coupon and pricing support, they’ll remain #1 in this competitive shopping market. This is what will move me as well as most buyers I pressume.

  2. Sangita Ray November 8th, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    Causal marketing has proven to be a good marketing approach for many companies while bringing about positive societal changes and in return gaining goodwill of consumers. However, I can’t agree more that marketers are definitely running out of ideas and seem to be just following the crowd. As the frugal consumer mindset is percolating the society, with coupons and comparison shopping gaining popularity, causal marketing can be effective only if brands make a genuine effort to identify the causes they really believe in and strongly support.

  3. Donna Sutton November 12th, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    I would agree with you Ronda with the ‘wear out’ factor on the breast cancer – when will there be some break-through. There seems to be a year ’round collection basket, walk-a-thons, runs, etc. and where is the money really going? Everything is PINK, and while progress has been made, it doesn’t seem to be enough. And if every product is PINK, what is truly beneficial anymore? I want my money to matter as does everyone – as you say Sangita – gaining the goodwill of the consumer – for any cause. Trust is everything.

    Obviously, if I buy the product anyway, I may buy it, but at what cost or taste will it leave in my mouth over time if it is wearing thin on my conscience when it’s too often wearing ribbons or the like? I hope that the causes and the money is being well spent or is going to a good cause in the end.

    I hope the pink we are all seeing doesn’t turn to red in the years to come.