Cause and effect - the value of cause-related marketing

What makes you put your hand in your pocket for charity? Imagine being able to harness this powerful emotion for a specific brand, product or service - and have it boost sales, reputation and raise vital funds for a worthy cause. This is cause-related marketing.

Straight cash donations do not appeal to businesses. Britain's 500 biggest charities received around 2% of their overall income in cash donation from business last year. What is growing at a phenomenal pace is cause-related marketing.

As each business has a fundamental responsibility to trade profitably, it is no wonder that giving away cash isn't popular. However, as we are reminded in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, the free market works best when enlightened self-interest is pursued.

Cause-related marketing (or cause-related PR, as we prefer to call it!) is almost a definition of enlightened self-interest. When correctly executed, cause-related marketing delivers business benefits and social benefits for corporate and charity partners at the same time. Let's get this straight - CRM is not philanthropy, nor is it altruism. It is consumer-led and market driven.

It is widely-accepted that every organisation should act in a socially-responsible way. But charity and patronage is something that individuals should engage in. There is now an imperative that businesses should plan their charity-related activities so that they provide identifiable, measurable, demonstrable business benefits - and this is possible, as the case studies that follow will prove.

Thought-leading companies have figured out that this means cause-related marketing, and many are now following their footsteps. Business in the Community revealed that cause-related marketing raised £58.2 million for charities, up 15% on the previous year.

Cause-related marketing is a potent weapon in the armoury of marketing departments but for it to work there must be genuine benefits for all parties and alignment. We have evidence of the power of CR-PR to deliver improved sales, revenue and reputation. I always work with clients to ensure that cause-related campaigns are not used in isolation but are part of the overall strategy.

Alignment - the key to success

In relation to cause-related marketing, alignment means finding the right cause for the right corporate partner with the right mechanic and creative. The public needs to be able to "get it" immediately.

Consumers are more savvy (and cynical) than they have ever been. They will assume that corporate partners will be benefiting from involvement in a charity. They will accept and welcome a cause-related campaign but only if it is transparent. Corporates must ensure that there are no hidden extra costs for the customer and no nasty surprises for the charity or cause or they will do more harm than good to their brand.

Getting the right fit

When Cadbury's offered vouchers on confectionery that could be redeemed for school sports equipment, the Food Commission pointed out that a 10-year-old child consuming enough chocolate to earn a basketball through the Cadbury's scheme would need to play basketball for 90 hours to burn off the calories! The scheme was widely criticised and reputations were damaged not strengthened.

Anyone considering a cause-related campaign must consider whether there is a good fit between their brand, product or company and the cause which they intend to support. Get it right and the benefits are impressive.

Recent research carried out by BITC shows that involvement in a high-profile cause can really drive sales. When Unilever put a charity Red Nose on packs of Persil washing powder to support Comic Relief, it saw sales rise 13% compared with previous weeks, increasing market share by 3%.

I have developed a particular specialism for cause-related campaigns. Our work for BT's involvement with BBC Children in Need and Comic Relief won the Hollis Award for "Best Use of PR in a Sponsorship Campaign" three consecutive years.

Case study: ChildLine & BT's Customer Survey

BT canvassed all of its 19 million customers - and incentivised response by donating £1 to ChildLine for each completed survey it received. More than 1.3 million customers responded, a response rate of nearly 7% (three times normal response). The findings allowed BT to target its marketing more accurately, particularly for Broadband (which is critical to BT's success). The association with ChildLine was identified as a ‘very strong positive influence' in persuading 22% of interviewees to return the survey (NOP). Spontaneous recall of BT's association with ChildLine had risen to 47% (Source: MORI).


This campaigns delivered for the charity, for BT, its overall CSR reputation and specific products/service. And consumers loved the campaign too!

I have become an evangelist for CRM. It's a win-win-win scenario for business, charity and society as a whole. But it must be right. It must be aligned with strategy.

BITC's research shows 68% of us want to see more CRM programmes and it even suggests businesses which don't sign up to a charity or a good cause "could start to see a negative impact on brand affinity and sales."

So do consider cause-related campaigns if you want to improve profitability and reputation at the same time - just make sure you get it right!


Co-founder of training firm, Mission International Ltd, Justin is a sought after coach, teacher and trainer. Justin delivers interactive workshops globally for corporate and not-for-profit organizations. This includes team development, leadership and communications training for Europe's best business school, HEC Paris, Invesco and VMware.

He has collaborated on significant published research in the field of human systems. Justin counsels with senior executives at organizations including the ...

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