Cause Marketing & CSR
For brands that have a value-driven mission, social consciousness promotions can get their campaigns ahead of competitors that just don’t care. That’s because younger generations, including Millennials and Gen Z, want to be a part of a movement, and they want to buy from companies that express clear Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and a commitment to ethics, according to the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report.
Audiences that aim to be part of something bigger than themselves want to buy into brands that think the way they do. Being socially active gives people a sense of identity, and a way to stand out from the crowd, by creating a smaller community of people that belong to a certain movement or moral compass. Brands that are socially active generate a greater level of trust.
Socially Active Collaboration
The most successful efforts in cause marketing are creative approaches to relevant causes, as opposed to the traditional charitable act of contributing funds. Relevancy can be achieved through collaborative partnerships, like Maker’s Mark giving away warm winter coats through a partnership with non-profit One Warm Coat, promoting that warmth comes in many dimensions. Getty Images recently launched a “Watermarks for Water” campaign with FCB Chicago, to support awareness and clean water efforts on World Water Day.
The important thing for brands to remember when participating in charitable causes is not to overshadow the cause with their willingness to help. The focus should be on offering a collaborative strategy that aims to serve the cause first.
Built on Benevolence
Other activations can take the shape of cause awareness directly associated with their brand mission.
For example, big tech companies may publicly support equal access to information, while clothing companies publicize their efforts to improve production processes and highlight their work against employee abuse reported in sweat shops.
Tom’s Shoes and Bombas socks, for example, built social activism into their brand from the get-go, incorporating the ability for buyers to affect change simply by buying their product. On a much larger scale, Patagonia built their brand entirely around an ethical mission that takes precedence over their bottom line. Their intense participation in sustainable production practices, human interest, and political activism has fueled an equally intense loyal following by their audience that cares as much about the outdoors as they do about making a positive impression on the world.
Following their example, there’s such a large influx of companies in the market pursuing ethical missions today that firms are opening services to support them, like Elle Communications, a PR firm that exclusively supports non-profits, social enterprises, CSR teams, ethical brands, and activists.
Be Authentic (Don’t Dabble)
Like any other marketing campaign, maintaining a sense of integrity avoids a tone-deaf result. Companies should be careful to bring awareness to causes that they actually make efforts to affect.
Recently, some brands’ International Women’s Day efforts were criticized for missing opportunities to make meaningful statements. Instead of turning the McDonalds sign upside down in a nod to women, critics suggested that the fast food giant could have shared stats about their efforts towards equal pay. The same was said about the Johnnie Walker campaign that simply featured a female figure on their bottle. A number of other companies also had the opportunity to show how they take action instead of passively acknowledging the existence of the opposite sex.
The trick here is not to be exploitative of causes. Effective brand campaigns reach out to movements that they want to make a difference in and that align with brand and audience sensibility. Green-washing (claiming sustainable practices without actions to back it up) and pink-washing (using the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon for campaigns and brands that do not support cancer research) have made consumers feel suspicious of brands that label themselves for the marketing benefit of hopping on the band wagon of a popular current cause.
Carefully Consider the Approach to Each Cause
The results of an inauthentic claim can be devastating. This year, Pepsi “missed the mark” when they used a social movement as the backdrop for an ad; the ad didn’t make a relevant connection between the beverage company and the cause, and the ad didn’t aim to support the movement in any way. The social movement instead was used to serve their brand, not the other way around. The beverage giant is still recovering from the effects.
Above all else, transparency and authenticity are key. Large companies with global reach are often practically obligated to incorporate active social messaging and efforts because their brands affect so many people, both consumers and employees. While some startups now incorporate good causes from the beginning, larger companies grow into great responsibility.
Consider the scrutiny that Facebook is currently facing due to the power they now have in the digital world. Mark Zuckerberg recently reminded listeners in a Freakonomics podcast interview that their mission is still heavily invested in building meaningful connections between people through Groups and Updates, and the real-life interactions their Events features enable. While they grapple with the consequences of their influence on public information and the publishing world, they are making active efforts to change how they affect their audience by acknowledging issues, updating algorithms to serve their consumers, and sponsoring positive outcomes.
If in doubt whether participating in a socially conscious cause or charitable effort is relevant to your brand or culture, it may be best to leave it to the brands and causes that can affect change and for whom sustainable business practices come naturally.
However, every industry has the opportunity to change for the world for better—the brands making these incredible commitments to improving communities are the ones we celebrate and support. Every brand can find their niche. It’s a matter of finding what matches their mission. Once the right cause meets the right mission, the brand and consumer relationship reaches a new level.
Looking to launch a campaign with a cause?