Avoid these cause marketing mistakes


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Even with the best of intentions, cause marketing campaigns make mistakes. And with today’s always on, networked platforms, your audience and customers will not hesitate to let you that you went wrong.

There are several models for executing cause marketing campaigns, ranging from portion of proceeds to licensing arrangements. No matter the approach you chose, cause marketing campaigns, unlike more traditional promotional marketing campaigns, are scrutinized by consumers for their authenticity and transparency. This means that the message, positioning and call-to-action must be a reflection of both partners’ brands (the nonprofit and the business) and demonstrate meaningful understanding of the issue (more on cause marketing partnerships). When these elements are out of line, we end up with cause marketing mishaps.

Here are two common cause marketing mistakes that you should avoid:

The Promo Tweet

Social media can be a powerful tool for mobilizing followers in real-time to support a cause. In 2011, Microsoft’s Bing launched a fundraising campaign to support victims of the tsunami that hit Japan. Microsoft pledged to give $1, up to $100,000, for every retweet of their #SupportJapan tweet. This campaign was immediately criticized by followers for poor tact. While likes and retweets are the measure of success for social media engagement, for a cause marketing campaign retweets can feel too promotional and do not offer the audience an authentic call-to-action to show support.

A better way to leverage social media for charitable giving is to reward original content from your followers. This can include the promotion of a unique campaign hashtag, rather than a specific company tweet. Change the Course has built a successful multi-year campaign using this model. For every individual pledge to conserve water, corporate commitments to restore and conserve water are released.

Mixed Message

KFC-JDRF mega-drink sign

Promotional products are a great way to raise awareness, promote product sales and give customers something tangible to enjoy for showing support – but you better be sure the cause and the product are sending the same message. KFC launched a campaign to support JDRF in raising awareness and prevention of diabetes in children. Unfortunately, KFC’s campaign pledge committed $1 to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund with the purchase of a half-gallon soda. The message in this campaign contradicts itself – buy an obscenely large sugary drink and help fight diabetes (?). This campaign demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the health issue and reinforced the industry’s bad rap as a contributor to unhealthy diets.

Patagonia campaign for the planet

A successful product give back is Patagonia’s Black Friday campaign that committed 100% of sales on Black Friday to grassroots organizations working to protect our air, water, and soil. This campaign was not out of character for Patagonia who has developed a brand rooted in the great outdoors, built on sustainability and responsible sourcing practices, and already donating 1% of its daily global sales to environmental organizations. This campaign brought together the values of the company with the mission of nonprofit environmental organizations.

A cause marketing campaign is a strategic marketing campaign that brings together two brands to advance a social or environmental cause. Maintaining authenticity and transparency starts with the partners, nonprofit and business, coming together develop a message and engagement plan that is true to both of their brand values. Finding the synergy between the partners will help avoid these common mistakes, and deliver a campaign that meets both parties' needs.

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