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Cause Related Marketing: Advertisement Feature - Take a walk on the wild side

The World Wide Fund for Nature's education work and famous panda logo have helped it get ahead in the world of marketing. Richard Cook explains all
Thirty-five years ago the trustees of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) wrote in their first ever report that "an ever increasing proportion of the Fund's income must be devoted to teaching people, and especially young people, the fundamental principles of conservation".

A generation on, those young people have grown up into today's ethical consumers: they are the people who are quietly changing the way companies communicate their advertising and marketing messages.

They are the people who have successfully insisted that big business puts the soul back into selling.

Today WWF is again leading the educational battle, only this time its subjects are the companies themselves and the lessons it is handing out are on how they too can enjoy this new kind of righteous rapport with their customers.

The change has happened with an impressive haste.

It was just three years ago, for example, that the world of advertising and marketing still seemed to be stuck in some sort of brutalist Groundhog Day. It seemed fated daily to re-live the same shocking ads.

In 1995 the Independent Television Commission announced it had received more complaints about TV commercials than ever before, nearly 4,000 in total.

In that same annus horribilis, Adrian Holmes the chairman of the multinational advertising agency group Lowe Howard-Spink stood on a conference podium at the industry's biannual conference and warned of the moral vacuum advertising and marketing was starting to inhabit.

Why, he asked, were the values that informed everyday life not being reflected in the advertising or marketing?

Where was the spiritual dimension?

There was a new ethical consumer, he pointed out, a consumer that had grown up with good causes and was now even prepared to let those causes shape their buying patterns.

Advertising was currently failing this valuable constituency and simply couldn't afford to ignore them much longer.

The trouble was that shocking, offensive ads were selling. An ad for Harley Davidson featured a young man putting his wife on the game to help support his Harley habit. The moral majority might have tut-tutted at this, but the bikes sold in their thousands.

And then suddenly people had had enough. They weren't impressed by cheap promotions that screamed down at them from every supermarket shelf.

They wanted value in their marketing lives in the same way as they were increasingly coming to demand it in the rest of their lives. They wanted their marketing to have meaning.

That might mean cause-related marketing in its simplest form, but increasingly it also means they want a more committed relationship between charity and business.

"Cause-related marketing is generally seen as something that adds value to a company's marketing campaign or offering," explains WWF's head of corporate partnerships, Patrick Chapman, "but we go one stage further than that.

"We're about values being added. We try to offer companies an integrated, holistic approach that doesn't just cover a specific tie-up or promotion but that sets down a blueprint about how we can work together with business to achieve both our goals."

But then as an environmental charity WWF encounters business with one considerable in-built disadvantage.

According to the available research, companies initially prefer to work with education and health charities, which, as a general rule, strike a chord with the public.

But companies' first choice is to work with charities that can deliver on their marketing objectives, and it's here that WWF is in a powerful posi-tion. It enjoys that position thanks to its insistence on education.

WWF remains one of the biggest producers of environmental education resources in the UK. It works with all the existing education systems, helping to educate tomorrow's consumers about sustainable growth and also shaping today's purchasing decisions.

The role that children play in the purchasing decisions of their entire families has long been guessed at, but it took the advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi to commission the first proper research into the area.

The staggering findings led to it opening a specialist unit dedicated solely to marketing to children, Saatchi & Saatchi Kid Connection.

The research looked at 11 major product sectors, and concluded that in the UK alone, kids influence over pounds 31 billion of spending carried out by adults each year.

And their influence doesn't merely spread to the sort of products you might expect, like toys or breakfast cereals.

In fact a third of respondents agreed that their children influenced the type of computer they bought, for example, and around a fifth agreed that they played a part even in the choice of a major purchasing decision like a house or car.

The famous panda logo of WWF and the slogan "This Panda Means Business" together constitute one of the world's most recognised brands and companies like BT, MBNA International Bank and Crown Wallcoverings have already linked up with the charity to form strategic marketing partnerships.

A series of award-winning ads in the trade press, with slogans like "Proof that you can have 14-hour lunches and succeed in marketing" and "How would you like a warm cuddly feeling every time you see your sales figures?", coupled with pictures of the panda, have helped to get the message across effectively to the business community.

And business is already starting to enjoy the environmental kudos that linking with WWF can undoubtedly lead to.

"What we are offering is little short of an environmental audit service for companies," points out WWF director of fund-raising and marketing, Ian Wratislaw, "and we do that by refusing to rule out potential partners right at the beginning of the relationship for whatever reason. We accept that companies' first instinct is the bottom line.

"All we ask is that they are showing demonstrable progress, and that they really do want to try to make an environmental difference. If they mean that, then we can help."

That help will be geared towards helping the company achieve its marketing objectives as well as environmental aims.

"The thing about the environment and business is that it is such a powerful fit," explains Chapman. "After all, environmental sense is business sense.

"And that's the connection, because at the end, the bottom line of green is black."