Looking Good While Doing Good: Cause Marketing and the Holidays

‘Tis the season to be charitable, but how can brands publicize their good deeds without appearing self-serving?

During the holidays, many brands pull double duty by creating compelling video content while also giving to good causes. Two of this year’s most successful holiday cause marketing videos came from WestJet Air, a Canadian airline, and UPS.

WestJet created an online video, featuring employees delivering Christmas gifts to an impoverished village in the Dominican Republic. The video has already received 2.7 million views. A week ago, UPS launched its “Your Wishes Delivered” campaign, in which customers tweeted “wishes” at the company and UPS delivered gifts to customers in need. The first video, which featured a little boy becoming a UPS driver for a day, has almost 2 million views.

Susan Rosenberg, director of public relations for UPS, says that the “Your Wishes Delivered” campaign both gives back to deserving customers and builds trust in the brand at the holidays — a crucial time for a shipping company.

“[Customers] see our drivers in familiar brown trucks in their neighborhoods more at the holidays and I think there’s a natural affinity at this time of year for our drivers because they are shipping holiday gifts,” Rosenberg says.

According to Jean Spencer, content marketing manager of Kapost, cause marketing and the holidays go hand-in-hand because consumers are already thinking about giving, and they are most likely to connect with brands that are in the charitable spirit as well.

“The whole cause marketing realm is pretty interesting because consumers can feel like they’re upholding the values and traditions of the holidays,” Spencer says. “The holidays are the time for cause marketing because the consumer is coming from this position of ‘Oh I want to be giving, and not just giving to my family.'”

In 2014, 62 percent of shoppers believed that it was important to buy goods from charitable companies, according to a recent poll from Good.Must.Grow, a social responsibility marketing consultancy. Additionally, 84 percent of social media users share content as a way to raise awareness for issues they care about, according to an infographic from Go-Gulf.

social-concisousness-infographic

But simply writing a check to charity in the age of social media isn’t enough. Brands must find ways to give at the holidays that remain brand-centered, though brands that rely too heavily on cause marketing can sometimes face backlash for using needy people as marketing tools. TOMS shoes, for example, has been plagued for years by critics who claim the company’s charitable “one for one” model of giving one pair of shoes to an impoverished village for every pair sold actually hurts local economies by taking business from local vendors.

“I think it’s fair to say that we live these days in a society that has a cynical element to it. Some people look at genuine efforts to do good and they don’t believe it,” says Robert Palmer, public relations director at WestJet. “They believe it’s disingenuous.”

One way to counteract consumers’ natural skepticism of charitable brands, according to Spencer, is to keep being sincere in charitable efforts. For example, one way that TOMS could have rehabilitated its image after National Public Radio, among others, questioned its giving practices, would have been to adapt to that criticism and attempt to grow from it.

“If you’re going to be doing a giving style business, you really have to be genuine and back those claims,” Spencer says. “When TOMS hit the scene and said they were going to donate shoes, that was a really unique and new idea; people liked it because it was a new way of thinking about giving. But now there’s kind of a bitter attitude toward it. It’s up to TOMS to keep reinventing and recalibrating the way that they’re going to give if their goal is to really be a giving company, they have to stay genuine.”

The main way that brands can use cause marketing to give back while reinforcing their brand’s message is to make content sharable. If consumers feel good about a brand’s efforts, they’re going to want to pass it along, says Spencer.

“Consumers choose companies that have charitable incentives, because they get to kind of flaunt that on social media and say ‘Hey, I’m making this giving choice and I may be spending more money, but hey, I’m doing extra and supporting a cause,'” she says. “That’s an easy way for people to showcase the things they value and the things they love in their lives. And then [the cause] spreads organically.”

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