In this guest post, Carat strategy director Andrew Hardeman (pictured below) suggests that if your brand isn’t ‘relevant, required, resilient or building revenue’ with cause-related activity, don’t do it at all.
Cause and purpose-driven advertising is in.
And at this point in time, it makes sense. Consumers want brands using their position and influence to focus on ‘doing more good’ rather than just talking about ‘being less bad’, and consumers are using more filters to determine the value a brand offers beyond just price and quality.
If a brand can satisfy a person’s higher order needs, they are willing to pay handsomely. How else can you explain why a person would pay $4 for a bottle of Thank You water?
Unfortunately, many brands are failing in their attempts to engage consumers with cause-driven activity – and failing hard. Who can forget Pepsi’s entry into the UN with an attempt to show how soft drink can create world peace, for example?
That said, some brands have succeeded in connecting with a bigger societal purpose or cause beyond their essential product delivery.
So, what is the winning formula? What determines if a brand will be applauded for their efforts, or torn to shreds for it?
A focus on the brand first, not the consumer.
The success of cause-driven activity comes down to whether consumers can see a real relationship between your brand and the cause it’s engaging in. Essentially, that they have something to do with each other.
So, before you charge headfirst into solving world hunger, check in and see how the cause or purpose measures up in the following criteria.
Relevance: does the brand have credibility to be involved with the cause?
Just because a purpose is relevant to a brands consumer base or society doesn’t mean it’s the brands job to tackle it. Case in point, Heineken and their polarising content piece tackling acceptance in modern society. Nice piece of work, but probably not the most relevant.
Conversely, REI in America successfully found a way to bring their purpose of outdoor activity to life by closing all their stores on the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday.
Required: is there space for your brand to have an impact?
Does the cause already have strong funding? Does it already have awareness? Does it already have strong corporate brand involvement? Are their actions in place to drive required change relating to it?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, I’d question whether a new brand entering the space would be worthwhile. As an example, Airbnb has done well to rally Australia behind marriage equality by providing a real mechanism for people to champion change beyond just an ad, with their ‘Until We All Belong’ campaign.
Revenue: will it make your brand money?
Marketers are in the business of selling products and making more money. And while brand preference gains are associated with successful cause activities, it’s a tough sell as businesses now rule a thick black line through any spend that isn’t building short-term returns.
But cause marketing can drive real and tangible revenue in the short term. It doesn’t have to – as long as everyone’s on board with softer measures of success for the activity – but the point is it can. Case in point, the collaboration between Adidas and environmental group Parley for the Oceans resulting in a new range of sneaker – Parley – made from recycled waste.
While immediate financial returns shouldn’t be the driving force behind the activity – if they are, you’re in it for the wrong reasons – they also shouldn’t be written out of the equation as an impossible outcome.
Resilience: is the brand committed to the cause for the long-term?
The very nature of ‘causes’ – a principle, aim or movement which one is prepared to defend or advocate – suggests brands must stay committed to truly derive the benefit of cause marketing.
This can be especially challenging because causes can polarise certain groups of brand customers. It is in the face of this adversity and challenges that determines whether a brand is truly committed.
A great recent example of this is the consistent commitment Allan Joyce and Qantas have made in championing marriage equality. Despite receiving a public pie to the face, Allan Joyce has maintained a resolute approach to marriage equality in Australia on behalf of Qantas.
What does this mean for brands and future adventures into cause marketing today?
At the end of the day, brands can’t forget that they are in the business of selling products, first and foremost.
Conversely, brands are in a position to actually champion social and political causes with their reach and presence in markets, and there is an acceptance and desire from consumers that brands put human values back into the boardroom.
So, while world peace, poverty and hunger are all major issues that we as a society must tackle, make sure you check in first and see if your brand is the right entity to solve it.