I’ve been doing a lot of research on cause marketing including reading a lot of material geared towards businesses telling them how to go about it successfully. I’ve learned a lot of interesting information. I think as consumers we often don’t realize the sheer number of people out there analyzing our every move. And we are naive about how business works. We personify companies and attribute human qualities to them that often aren’t particularly appropriate. (And yes I know SCOTUS thinks companies are people on some level, but let’s leave that for another day.) We buy something because it pulls at our heartstrings without fully understanding who is holding the other end. But I also think the tide is turning and consumers are becoming more aware of where their money goes. Material directed at marketers is focusing more on best practices, clear communication and transparency. I hope this trend continues.
I’ve read a lot of statistics and one that surprised me is how few people realize that the primary purpose of a for profit company is to make a profit. They don’t exist to do good works. They exist to ultimately make money for the people who own them. Companies that are publicly traded have to make decisions in the best interests of their shareholders. It doesn’t make them evil or good, it is simply the way our economy is structured.
On the flip side, we don’t seem to consider the people behind the logo. All of those people working to earn money for shareholders – they are people like you. They are doing their job. And often they choose a nonprofit to support because it is something they personally feel strongly about. I’m sure there are those simply in it for the money. But a lot of people behind the scenes have good intentions. They are trying to do something good while also ultimately contributing to the success of the business they work for. And they are also a part of the focus of cause marketing as one of the benefits to companies is employee moral and loyalty.
So where does this leave cause marketing? Like it or not it is here to stay. In the past a lot of companies had foundations which provided grants to nonprofits. While I’m sure the intentions of the people involved were often altruistic, from a company perspective the foundations provided good PR, good will among employees and I’m guessing some tax advantages too. As cause marketing has grown, companies are shifting more and more away from simply granting money and toward a marketing strategy tied to a good cause. They see it as a win/win. They get good PR for their brand, increased market share and/or increased profits while the nonprofit benefits also. Nonprofits are having to rethink their strategy for corporate donations as money available through foundations decreases. Both sides can benefit when it is done well. But when a cause marketing campaign goes sideways it can cause irreparable damage, especially to the nonprofit.
Where does this leave the consumer? It depends. If we choose to continue buying things simply because they are associated with a good cause and that makes us feel good, we will continue to see companies that take full advantage of our choice. If we choose to be educated consumers and demand transparency and accountability from companies and nonprofits we can drive the market towards a more responsible model of cause marketing. I read an interesting study on millennials. Written by a marketing firm, it was focussed in how to reach that market, but I found some of the insights promising for all of us. Millenials are more focused on corporate responsibility not only in what they purchase but also in where they work. They are also very vocal about their choices and are using social media to spread the word, both for companies they support, and those they do not. I hope we are all moving in this direction. Ultimately we as consumers drive the market because if we aren’t buying, they aren’t selling.
So how does this tie into Pinktober? Some of the most cited examples of what not to do are from breast cancer nonprofits. From partnering with companies whose products are directly or indirectly contributing to breast cancer to campaigns that are at best vague and often downright deceptive, we seem to be leading the charge, pink flags flying and no idea who programmed the GPS. We can blame the big pink charities and the executives on both sides (and I admit some of that blame would be well deserved). We can rant about pink washing and awareness campaigns that leave the public anything but aware. We can blame “them”. Or we can stand up and do something about it. Companies can’t use breast cancer to sell more products if we don’t buy them. Nonprofits can’t use our money for things we don’t approve of if we don’t donate. And the companies and nonprofits we work for won’t launch campaigns that anger their own employees and decrease moral. We have the power to change our course. We just have to use it.
It’s time to do better together.
If you want to read more about it, google “cause marketing”. Add your favorite or least favorite charity to the mix and you may find them on a list of examples for successful or unsuccessful campaigns. A research study I talked about was done by Cone Communications and they are cited in a lot of the articles when they start talking stats. Their website has a lot of info intended for marketing types that I found interesting from a consumer perspective. And if none of that interests you, no problem. All I ask is that you spend your hard earned money consciously when buying a product linked to a cause. You can read more about what questions to ask here.