Cause Related Marketing: The ultimate challenge - how to market a product that's crushingly boring

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The Independent Culture
If you were peering into the marketing world from the outside, looking for a brand you thought you might like to make your name on, it is a fair bet that you might choose an expensive motor car, or record label, perhaps even a jeans company, writes Richard Cook. But ask almost any professional what the most rewarding job in marketing is and they'll tell you a different story.

It's one of marketing's unwritten rules, the sexier a product or service is to the public at large, the less satisfying the marketing of it becomes. Anyone can sell a Ferrari - the real skill comes in selling people something they aren't prepared to admit that they want. It's an area where innovation is crucial, and where, as a result, cause-related marketing has an increasingly strong foothold.

Financial services is a product category that makes people's eyes glaze over, while the provision of electricity is treated with intense contempt, but both sectors have turned to CRM initiatives to help change these perceptions.

Two years ago Norwich Union was looking at ways it could bring its financial service products to the front of people's minds. Policy-holders would maintain an annual connection with the company to renew their contracts and that was about it. The idea was to think of a cause-related marketing initiative that would foster more public empathy.

Norwich Union conducted qualitative research through Chris Payne Associates to find out what sort of cause would sit well with their customer base. It was a search that unearthed St John Ambulance as the prospective partner, and the two parties embarked on a regional television advertising and PR campaign, with Norwich Union offering to stump up for first aid courses at local St John Ambulance Centres.

The ad was the first time the charity had been able to get on to television and featured people giving conflicting advice to a little girl who had supposedly drunk white spirit. The television campaign was given additional support by a PR campaign co-ordinated by the Quentin Bell Organisation.

The results were staggering. By the end of last year 25,000 free first aid course places had been offered and 13,000 people had trained.

Post-campaign analysis showed that almost a quarter of people would be more likely to buy Norwich Union products having seen the ad, while nearly two-thirds of delegates on the courses said they felt more positive about Norwich Union.

St John Ambulance, on the other hand, not only got the opportunity to train thousands of people it might not otherwise have done, but it also received an increase in membership enquiries and attendance at some of the other courses it runs.

London Electricity had a problem of a similar magnitude. Awareness among customers was pitifully low and deregulation was opening up the prospect of competition from up to 20 new companies. The solution tried over the last winter was an innovative CRM campaign.

The company decided to join forces with Age Concern to launch a Winter Warmers campaign to raise funds for older people and to raise awareness of their special needs in winter.

London Electricity's 1.8 million customers all received a tear-off coupon on their bill linked to a page in the accompanying customer magazine, which explained the campaign's objectives and encouraged them to return the coupon.

The company pledged pounds 1 for every coupon received with a ceiling of pounds 40,000.

Although it's too recent a campaign to have full results yet, the PR team at Countrywide Porter Novelli points out that the campaign has already achieved a considerable PR result, with broadcast coverage across most of the capital's local media, and so far more than 130,000 bill coupons have been returned.