The digital revolution has had far reaching effects on the consumer. Improved access to information, broadening of choice and the ability to share reviews has put customers more in charge of their relationship with brands than ever before.

Armed with more information and consolidated power, customers are making more informed choices about what they buy and who they buy it from. And in this age of customer empowerment market trends are favouring purpose-driven brands that connect with customers on values other than economic.

A 2020 Consumer Culture report by 5Ws PR stated that 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align to their values. The survey also found that on the whole consumers are becoming more politically and socially conscious, buying products from businesses that adhere to their social and political beliefs.

So, how are marketers responding to these changing customer behaviours? Enter cause-related marketing (or cause marketing for short). Although not a new marketing strategy (American Express’s 1983 campaign to give 1c for every $1 spent on their card to restore the Statue of Liberty being seen as an early example) it’s a strategy that has become incredibly popular over the past ten years, due to, well the information above.

What is Cause Marketing?

Cause marketing describes different ways that companies can market themselves to the public by using corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Usually cause marketing sees a brand align themselves with a social or environmental cause in order to reap marketing benefits (and for some altruistic reasons).

Aligning with a cause that is related to their product, service or customer, enables the brand to do some value matching with the people that they are trying to sell to.

It can be done in different ways and have different benefits, but the most common is to improve the perception of the brand. Here at ONQOR, we exclusively work with sustainable and ethical brands – providing visibility and marketing solutions for brands that care.

A Made-up Example Might Help

A dog food brand, Woof, decides to do a cause marketing campaign and chooses a cause related to abandoned pets, something that is close to the heart of their animal-loving customers.

Woof decided to partner with Tattersea Dogs Home, a charity that houses and feeds abandoned pets. The campaign, Food for Thoughts states that for every can of Woof sold to the public, the company will give a can to Tattersea Dogs Home.

The campaign is publicised through TV ads, in store promotions, and a social media campaign in partnership with the charity. It helps Woof foster a caring image in the mind of dog lovers, customers and potential customers. It increases loyalty to the brand, and gets Woof a couple of positive pieces of press coverage. Some dog owners even switch to Woof from their closest competitors Bark and Howl.

This is a very simple cause marketing campaign. Aligning with a charity or non-profit can often be the easiest way to a successful campaign, especially for smaller brands. But some larger brands are taking cause marketing to another level.

A More Inspiring Cause Marketing Example

Dove’s Self-Esteem Project

Some of the most impressive and ambitious cause marketing campaigns have come from the soap giant (and Ogilvy and Mather). Their 2005 Self-Esteem Project promoted self-confidence in young women to combat the anxiety related to self appearance. Throughout the project Dove worked with thousands of teachers to host workshops promoting body confidence and self-esteem. Approximately 1.5 million individuals have engaged with the project. 

This campaign was so ambitious because Dove didn’t attach itself to an existing cause. It took an important but often overlooked issue and it resonated with their audience to a level few would have predicted.

dove body confidence campaign

From the early 2000s Dove has invested in numerous cause marketing campaigns around similar issues with tremendous success both in terms of promoting the cause and reaping the rewards. Dove is now the largest soap brand in the world worth over $4m.

So What is Next Within Cause-Related Marketing?

As Millennials and Gen Z expect more responsibility and transparency from brands, and are prepared to pay more for sustainable products, cause marketing is set to grow. Brands wanting to target these audiences will see this as an effective strategy in the coming months and years.

We will also begin to see more brands publicly identify their position on social issues, even when controversial. Nike’s advert featuring American Footballer Colin Kaepernick is an example of this. Kaepernick had recently knelt during the US national anthem which had caused huge controversy, Nike’s decisions to feature him garnered both praise and criticism.

But in general these are part of a larger movement towards corporate responsibility. There is of course an element of jumping on bandwagons and brandwashing, but even this is part of a movement that reflects the changing demands of the public. It goes without saying that there is very far to go.

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

Basically marketing is no longer just about your brand. To communicate what your brand offers and to talk about your products really isn’t enough. Consumers don’t want to feel that they are simply buying a product but that they are buying into an ideal. That they are supporting a brand that has a purpose and stands for something more. If your brand can become part of somebody’s values, beliefs, even their identity, then we can say ‘job well done’.

Cause marketing demands conscientious planning and thoughtful execution. For more information you can read our next blog How to use Cause Marketing.