Branding With Passion

A celebrity trend in recent years has been donating lots of money to charity. Madonna devoted part of her concert revenues to victims of September 11; Tom Cruise supported a school in Los Angeles; Bill and Melinda Gates established a fund for a variety of charitable causes. Now celebrity focus is shifting — to brands! Celebrities are declaring support for brands with relationships to charities.

Before you rush out to team your brand up with a worthy organization, consider the following.

Two-thirds of consumers are more willing to respond to cause-related marketing if they perceive a natural fit between the brand and the cause. This reminds me of a commercial I saw some years ago. It featured John Cleese (so it was incredibly funny, of course). But no way can I remember what the commercial promoted. I only remember John Cleese. Why? The link between the brand and the personality was nonexistent. The marketers (whoever they were) used Cleese to attract attention. Viewers’ attention was so captivated by the comedian and the relationship between him and the brand was so tenuous, that the campaign failed to make a statement for the brand.

A logical association between a brand and a worthy cause has to do with the business category to which the brand belongs and with the values the brand represents. Needless to say, you should avoid the “pet cause” impulse. You wouldn’t adopt an association with the CEO’s favored charity simply because it was her favored charity, would you? You might find a natural fit between many things: between a communications company and a telephone counseling service; between a telco and an association for the deaf; between a computer manufacturer and schools. For some time Microsoft has provided free software and computers to schools around the world.

I’m a huge fan of creativity used to its best advantage. A memorable campaign is always a creative campaign. Part of that creativity can lie in the alliance you establish with a social cause. Opportunistically including a cause partner’s logo in your advertising is hardly creative. You must achieve and communicate synergy between your brand and your cause. Synergy is the alpha and omega of a successful brand-building strategy.

In Australia Kelloggs sponsors a round-the-clock kids’ help line. The brand has sponsored this association for years. The relationship represents compatibility between brand and cause. The company uses its package design to promote the cause and build the brand. If you buy a Kelloggs product, you’ll find a notice about the help line on the package. It’s as simple as that.

Cause-related marketing requires planning. More planning than you might imagine. Typically, a campaign takes up to 10 months to develop. It’s important such brand building results are studied before, during, and after associations with charitable causes are established. Why? For some reason, companies always want more out of such programs than they believe they get. The risk is your company might decide to terminate its support for its chosen charity. Termination hardly helps a brand’s association. Cause-related branding is serious business that reflects serious commitment. The best possible way to ensure your company maintains its commitment is to measure its effect and show its substance. Often, brand building outcomes are more impressive than anyone in your company could have imagined. Most brands’ builders forget to establish metrics and controls before they launch the brand in a cause-related campaign. Neglecting this vital step risks not being able to chart your brand’s progress.

Be exclusive. Identify a logical relationship, foster it, and ensure you secure your brand’s rights to that cause. You don’t want your competitor jumping on your bandwagon, leveraging your conscientious work, and running away with the credit.

Cause-related marketing isn’t only ABOUT business. It’s about passion, belief, and commitment. These energies go hand in hand with business ambition and growth. But if your board couldn’t care less about the cause you support, you can be sure the lack of internal support will show.

You can’t buy passion. But if your brand’s values are clearly and consistently articulated, understood by the consumer, and underscored by the cause you support, your external and internal audiences will appreciate your activities and support them.

One thing’s for sure: If you can achieve this synergy between your brand, its sponsored cause, and your consumer, you’ll unlock a new and passionate dimension to brand building.

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