Cause Related Marketing: The name of the game is all in a good cause

Consumers are more than happy to buy a product linked to a charity, but the issue and the product have to complement each other. By Richard Cook
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The Independent Culture
Times change. Consider for a moment the Jane Fonda fitness workout video. Even if you were one of the millions of Eighties customers who fell for this gaudy countenance of its age, the chances are that the last time you popped it in the VCR, Ted Turner wasn't even a twinkle in Hanoi Jane's eyes.

These days we've all moved on from Fonda's perky pursuit of perfection, and all our hopes and aspirations have moved on too.

That, after all, was then: greed was good, Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Mrs Thatcher had the Poll Tax riots ahead of her.

It was a time of conspicuous consumption. In the Eighties it didn't much matter what you had to say, just that you said it loudly.

And it was the same with the whole advertising process. Advertising and marketing didn't simply talk to consumers, they screamed at them. But the world at large has moved on from this rampant materialism to embrace a more spiritual side of its nature.

From the politicians' calls for a "stakeholder economy" to the collective outpouring of a vocal grief at the death of Princess Diana, it has become clear that values like decency, compassion and integrity are no longer regarded as weaknesses. And where the collective psyche leads, big business follows.

And that is where cause-related marketing comes in. This change in our conception of society means that the connection between business and the charitable sector no longer feels illogical or forced.

"In the Sixties, the whole premise of advertising was based on the rational and logical, appealing to the mind," explains Marjorie Thompson, director of Saatchi and Saatchi Cause Connection - the specialist unit set up to deal specifically with cause-related marketing.

"Now in the Nineties, there is an emphasis on the ethical - what is right, how can I do good?"

The definition of cause-related marketing is that it is the activity by which a company with an image, product or service to market, builds a relationship or partnership with a cause or a number of causes, for mutual benefit.

One immediate benefit for the cause is cold hard corporate cash, but the benefits aren't just financial - associating with a household name can be an enormous fillip in helping almost any charity develop its own brand personality.

Business in the Community is a charity established to help facilitate the links between the charity and commercial sectors in the area of cause- related marketing.

Three research projects looked into perceptions from the points of view of business and the consumer. The Winning Game was a quantitative examination of consumers' reactions to this type of ethical marketing, while the Corporate Survey took the temperature of big business, and The Game Plan went back to consumers in a qualitative study of the way they relate to the charity and business connection.

In total 86 per cent of consumers agreed that when price and quality were equal, they would be more likely to buy a product associated with a cause, while three quarters of respondents said they would actually switch brand for the same reason, assuming that price and quality were equal. Seventy per cent of the marketing directors surveyed believed that cause-related marketing spend would increase in importance over the next couple of years.

As far as companies are concerned, effective cause-marketing translates into added value, enhanced customer loyalty and brand equity.

"It is an effective way of differentiating the marketing mix from that of competitors and, ultimately, the brand," maintains Cause Connection's Thompson. "It is an effective tool in achieving many objectives at once - including turning a profit."

"We feel that cause-related marketing can, and does, have a considerable impact on how people perceive us," says Microsoft's director of marketing services, Shaun Orpen, "which is part of the reason we get involved in tie-ups with charities like the NSPCC and in supplying computer equipment to schools."

An ever-growing body of evidence has suggested for a long while that effective cause-related marketing campaigns can be successful in conventional terms.

What is more difficult to log is the deeper bond that cause-related marketing creates with the consumer. But just because it's difficult to measure doesn't mean it's not there.

Cause-related marketing as far as companies are concerned is all about developing complete programmes that tap into the emotional power of the particular cause or issue so that consumers feel included by the company and charity, working together for a common goal.

Companies can't jump from one year's fashionable cause to the next, not if they want that strong bond with their consumer to jump with them.

Although the American Express tie-up with the Statue of Liberty takes deserved credit for inventing or re-inventing cause-related marketing, it is not nowadays thought to set the most effective precedent. American Express has since refined its own method.

Indeed, not all examples from the US really support the idea that North American marketing initiatives are light years ahead of their leaden British imitators. There are in fact almost as many cautionary tales emerging from across the pond as there are of schemes that deserve to be imitated.

The experience of the American Arthritis Foundation, for instance, should send a chill to many a charity's heart. It concluded a licensing deal with a leading drugs company to produce an American Arthritis Foundation ibuprofen.

At first sight the deal seemed to satisfy all the minimum conditions of a successful cause-related marketing tie-up. There was plenty of scientific evidence that ibuprofen was beneficial in the treatment of arthritis.

During the promotion, awareness of the Foundation and the services it provides almost doubled. It seemed to be a win-win situation. But it wasn't:

"In the end 19 states threatened to sue and the product was withdrawn," explains Sue Adkins, director of cause-related marketing at Business in the Community, "and what had seemed like a good example turned into anything but.

"The problems were that this was just a repackaged existing product, and that it was unclear to the consumer how much the Arthritis Foundation stood to benefit.

"What's worse, it wasn't made clear that these were the same tablets available everywhere, but in this case ones that helped a good cause, while not all of the funds were going to help the Foundation.

"The lesson is that it's vital that charities ask all the right questions if these relationships are going to work as they can.

"And it demonstrates that while the temptation is to think that the US is so advanced and sophisticated that we should only really be looking over there for inspiration, the truth of the matter is simply that they do a lot of it. Some excellent, some good and some bad. And because in part we have learned the important lessons there has always been plenty of innovation and creativity over here."

There are a host of examples to support this contention, ranging from small companies and charities to some of Britain's biggest names.

What they all have in common is a prevailing logic behind the link. One strong example is of the New Covent Garden Soup Company which has used cause-related marketing to introduce new flavours to the market with tremendous success.

Its brand is all about organic and natural values so it tied up with the National Trust to launch its wild mushroom flavour, offering 10p per carton up to a pounds 40,000 ceiling and picturing the cause on its packaging. It seemed, again like all the best examples, to be a completely natural fit.

But that sort of quick response, tactical use of CRM, is not for everybody.

Some of Britain's biggest companies have moved along the same lines as American Express, developing long-term brand links with their chosen causes.

Tesco is practically the grand old man of British CRM. It launched its Computers For Schools initiative as long ago as 1992, and the venture has impinged itself so deeply upon the national consciousness that a third of all schools now place orders for equipment.

In addition to enhanced corporate profile and customer loyalty, sales have increased as a direct result and Tesco has been rewarded by the sweetest compliment of all - some of its cut throat competitors have launched their own imitation of the scheme.

But then imitation, in business more than anywhere else, really is the sincerest form of flattery.