Marketing for a good cause

At the Cause Marketing Forum’s 2014 conference in Chicago last week, the leading players in the cause marketing movement gathered to learn from each other, share insights and case studies and celebrate the best cause marketing campaigns through the annual Halo Awards. Carolyn Butler-Madden covered the event for B&T.

Contrary to what many Australians may think, cause marketing isn’t just a feel-good, do-good category without a whole lot of relevance to the hard-nosed sales and brand-building results that marketing stakeholders are expected to achieve. The reality is that after many years of playing in the field, our US counterparts are using cause marketing in a very sophisticated way to drive consumer and customer engagement, loyalty and brand sales, often to levels beyond the reach of a non-cause campaign.

The conference opened with David Hessekiel, the head of Cause Marketing Forum, expressing his frustration with the frequency with which he hears the terms ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency’ in relation to cause marketing. Despite this, these terms cropped up quite frequently during the conference, but hey ‑ with good reason. What the Americans may be getting weary about, we in Australia haven’t really even got to in any, dare I say, authentic way.

Hessekiel called out innovation and impact as the key focus for cause marketing moving forward. He went so far as to predict that companies ignoring impact face a danger of being left behind, in a world where consumer expectation of our brands is growing way faster than companies are responding.

The first guest speaker was Australia’s very own Jeremy Heimans, co-founder and CEO of Purpose, a home for building 21st century movements and ventures that use the power of participation to change the world. Heimans has advised institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google. In Australia, he co-founded Getup, and in 2012, Fast Company ranked him 11th on its annual list of the most creative people in business.

Heimans’s presentation, ‘From Campaigns to Movements’, was about new rules for purpose-driven brands. He shared some of his own programs including the UK’s Organix ‘Take the No Junk Challenge’, in which they tell consumers ‘if you can’t spell it, you shouldn’t feed it to your children’, highlighting the negatives of all those hard to pronounce, impossible to spell ingredients that have infiltrated our packaged foods.


His advice to brands is to find a cause that aligns with your brand and that isn’t BS. Can your product itself be positioned as a solution for social improvement? Can your organisation be an authentic champion of the cause? Can you own this cause in the mind of consumers?

The next speaker was Charles Best, CEO and founder of, which was among the very first crowd-funding organisations in the world, preceding Facebook, Twitter and Kickstarter.

Best shared the story of, which he started in 2000 when he was a history teacher at a Bronx public high school in need of funding for basic classroom supplies. This non-profit organisation provides a simple way to address education inequity. ‘Teachers ask. You choose’ is its tagline. It’s one of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate favourite things” and was named by Fast Company as one of the 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World – the first time a charity has received this recognition.

The story of how this organisation started is really quite amazing, laced with funny anecdotes including one about his first launch of his school’s funding needs, where he actually anonymously provided the funding to each of the projects to drive belief among his own peer-group that this idea could actually work. Their belief in it was absolutely key to the word-of-mouth that took this organisation to where it is now.

Best heralds a crowd-funding world where the gatekeepers of old, the nay-sayers, are removed. If you’re in any doubt, check out the results that has achieved since their launch in 2000:

US$241 million given

11.4 million students helped

1.4 million supporters

57% of US public schools

Into the evening session, we heard via video link from Blake Mycoskie, founder and chief shoe giver at TOMS, which was awarded the Golden Halo Award for business. Later, Sebastian Fries, chief funding officer at TOMS, gave the keynote presentation.

TOMS is a for-profit business that is sustainable and doesn’t rely on donations. It’s a business that has sparked a movement, with purpose being an intrinsic part of its DNA. Its Buy One, Give One model started with shoes, which are also available in Australia. For every pair of TOMS shoes you buy, they fund a pair for children in some of the poorest countries in the world.

Last year, there was some intense criticism of TOMS around its giving model. By manufacturing shoes and providing them to these markets, TOMS was putting some local shoemakers at risk of going out of business.

TOMS has since adapted its model to one in which they manufacture a proportion of its giving shoes in markets in which it supplies those shoes. From a feasibility perspective, this change did not come without some major challenges. Adopting this change to its model I think is a reflection of the passion of the people at TOMS and its focus on its core purpose.

Today, TOMS has branched out to eyewear, with the simple one-for-one proposition and more recently to coffee, where its one-for-one proposition has been re-modelled to coffee for you, water for all. That its customers are responding to the coffee offering is evidence of the trust that the brand has earned among its customers.

Day two kicked off with a presentation from this year’s winner of the Golden Halo Award for Nonprofits. Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH) CEO John Lauck traced his organisation’s cause marketing history from its pioneering days to its current emphasis on investing in innovation to benefit network hospitals and corporate partners.

To give you an idea of the scale of this organisation, they have 90 corporate partners. Its largest, Walmart, raised more than $50 million for them last year. It has numerous programs, some of which they talked about.

Lauck’s key piece of advice was to set big goals. The bigger the goal, the bigger the scale of the ideas to get there! Its own goal is to achieve an annual fundraising target of $US1 billion by 2022. To give some context here, its fundraising total for CMNH for 2013 was $US320 million, representing a 41% growth on the previous year’s total.

His second suggested goal is to invest in innovation; put together a tomorrow team. Take people out of today work, in order to plan for future fundraising opportunities. CNMH has appointed six people to its tomorrow team. They have zero accountability for current fundraising targets and are invested in the future. One of the ideas to have come from this team, which has been implemented, is the launch of a range of packaged goods: Miracle Harvest. Eat well. Do good.

All of the profits from the sale of this range goes to CMNH, a concept not dissimilar to Paul Newman’s Own brand range, but without the celebrity factor.

Finally Lauck says to make failure acceptable. If people are too fearful of the consequences of failure, they’re not going to take the kind of risks needed to deliver the big ideas needed to reach the organisation’s big goal.

The Good Goes Global section of the conference featured Mars Inc’s Daniel Vennard who shared his company’s experience in developing a research project into cause marketing. Mars wanted to identify how to create great campaigns that build brand value and growth. It tested a range of cause campaigns on its brands using different cause and communication strategies. And it evaluated those campaigns using non-cause marketing campaigns as their benchmark.

Vennard shared five key insights:

1.    Don’t mess with brand packaging (consumers shop the category looking for the brand they usually buy, identified of course by the packaging they’re used to).

2.    Thirty second TVC spots are too constrained for a cause campaign as they provide insufficient time to allow you to create the tension, then introduce the cause partner and the nature of the partnership.

3.    Cause marketing is great for creating in-store events (it’s a strategic and emotional winner with trade partners and store staff).

4.    Importance of media in amplifying a campaign (he highlighted the success of their Whiskas ‘Protect A Tiger’ campaign, attributing the media amplification as a key success component).

5.    Importance of replicating success (get the cost benefits by rolling out successful campaigns to different markets).

Vennard highlighted to B&T exclusively that the most effective use of cause in Mars’ research was through in-store activation. The support of its trade partners and store staff escalated in comparison to non-cause campaigns and this showed through the end results.

A presentation from Walgreen’s Bonnie Gordon shone the spotlight on how cause can be brilliantly integrated into a loyalty program. Walgreen’s is the USA’s largest chain of pharmacies. Its customer loyalty program, Walgreen’s Balance Rewards, supports the chain’s tagline ‘At the corner of happy and healthy’, by inviting its customers to earn points through healthy exercise and activities. Their proposition is simple: Get rewarded for living a happy, healthy and well-balanced life.

Members can log a range of activities to earn points, such as setting their first healthy goal, linking a device or app, walking, running, cycling, weight tracking or taking a blood pressure test. Naturally, points can also be earned for buying products in-store and for prescriptions and immunisation. Points redemption couldn’t be simpler. 5,000 points = $5 to spend in store.

The stand out breakout session of the conference was a close-up on the power of the cause video. Its ability to capture attention, convey stories, connect with consumer and go viral makes video a powerful piece of the next generation cause marketer’s tool kit.

Expert presenters shared the dos and don’ts of leveraging video to create more effective campaigns. CIBC Canada for ‘Run for the Cure’, an amazingly powerful, emotive video with the most simple execution. No words needed.


Stats to come out of the session included that 57% of the Internet is currently taken up by video. By 2017, this number is expected to grow to 80-90%.

Cause marketing in the USA and around the world is achieving the kind of results that many marketers here in Australia would be hungry to achieve for their own brands. No doubt there are some tricky paths to navigate, to ensure the right cause partnership and execution. And no doubt that Cause marketing isn’t for every brand. But here’s one thing I can say with confidence. The USA has years of experience and learnings in this field. While Australia is certainly not a replica of the US market, there are some synergies and we can look to their experience to fast-track our own cause marketing efforts and to avoid some of the pitfalls that cause marketers in the US have had to learn from first hand.

Carolyn Butler-Madden is founder and managing director of Sunday Lunch, a Sydney-based creative marketing agency specialising in sales driving marketing strategies including promotional marketing, cause-related marketing and local community marketing. You can read her blog here

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