Relating Cause to Marketing

Remember when you were a kid and cheered on your favorite football team? Me too. Remember all the advertising you’d see on banners around the stadium? No? Neither do I. Maybe I can recall the gist of the advertising in general, but I sure can’t recall anything memorable enough to have left a specific impression. No sponsors stand out.

Things have changed a lot since those days on the bleachers. Dramatic changes have also occurred with the concept of sponsorship. These days, most marketers recognize a link between their brands and what their brands sponsor is essential to brand-building success. Let’s look at how sponsorship as a form of brand-building is evolving.

Over the past few years, some sponsorships have transformed the brand-builders’ traditional approach to sponsorship ventures. They’re characterized by being increasingly calculated, strategic, and effective.

Disasters have been taken into account as well. Sadly, disasters are an inevitable part of life in the global community. Inevitably, they marshal a collective urge to offer help and support. Brand-builders are stepping in with sponsorship solutions that turn that urge into positive action. This is called cause-related marketing, and, though its been practiced for decades, it’s only now recognized as a way of generating goodwill through brand alliances.

Kellogg’s is practicing cause-related marketing in Australia by sponsoring the Kids Help Line, a confidential telephone counseling service. In April 1994, British Airways launched its Change for Good program, a venture that raises much-needed money for UNICEF by giving passengers a useful way of disposing of their nonexchangeable foreign coins. Microsoft’s Fresh Start for Donated Computers program helps primary and secondary schools make the most of their IT assets.

These successful cause-related marketing programs exhibit synergy between the values of the cause and those of the brand. What else would you do with coins you accumulate while on vacation in foreign climes? Once you’re on that homeward airplane, you need a way to get rid of them. Change for Good turns a negative experience into a positive one.

Yet successful examples are few and even rarer in online marketing. Sure, Amazon.com honored the firefighters whose heroism was demonstrated during the September 11 disaster. Yes, many U.S. Web sites offered their condolences to the families of terrorism victims by including the U.S. flag on their sites. All laudable, patriotic endeavors.

But we’re talking brand-building. There’s untapped potential in well-considered cause-related marketing.

So what makes a cause-related campaign successful?

  • It’s about matching values. The synergy between your brand and a cause must be logical and just. It’s not enough the CEO’s wife is a big supporter of a charity. The relationship between cause and brand must be immediately perceived by the consumer. When asked about the issue, she’ll associate it with your brand’s support.

  • It’s about taking the cause seriously and making a long-term commitment. For years, the Westpac Banking Corporation has sponsored the Lifesaving Association’s (a volunteer organization that patrols Australian beaches) rescue helicopter service. Today, the choppers are universally known as Westpac Rescue Helicopters. The bank’s support led to its name being nearly synonymous with lifesaving in Australia. To change the arrangement now would be a major challenge for the corporation’s marketers, and the brand’s health. Understand the importance of a potential commitment, and take it seriously.
  • Spread the word. Although the cause that attracts your marketing attention may be worthy, your efforts and the good of the cause itself aren’t optimized unless you make both of them known. You can’t neglect spending on traditional communications. Close to 25 percent of the budget must be earmarked for broad communication strategies.

Think long and hard. Ensure you can achieve each of the three essential criteria. If you can, you’ll be well on the way to leveraging your support of a good cause.

I’m looking for online stars who utilize the potential of this opportunity. If you’re quick and wise and take cause-related marketing’s potential seriously, you just could be among the first to take it to the Web.

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