Most Cause Marketing Is Wallpaper

Posted by: David Kiley on July 17, 2007

The recently released 2007 Cone Cause Evolution Survey, finds that fully two-thirds of Americans consider a company’s business practices when deciding what to buy. It also found that 87% of U.S. consumers would switch from one brand to another if the other brand was associated with a good cause, up 31% since 1993.

I don’t doubt that people answered the survey the way Cone reported it. What I do doubt is that even a majority of people could match up the brand to which they may be loyal with the cause or social issue the company is supporting. How many Chevy owners know what Chevy supports? How many Heinz Ketchup buyers know what Heinz supports? Toyota? Levi Strauss? Intel? Pfizer?

There are some companies that have successfully branded their causes. Ronald McDonald Houses come to mind. And Target has pretty successfully advertised its fund-raising for Tiger Woods’ foundation. If you can keep track of the companies raising money for the Komen Foundation and breast cancer research, my hat is off to you. And I’d bet a vast majority of Target customers are hard pressed to know what Woods does with the money.

The Cone survey also says: 92% of consumers value companies that promote social issues, and 83% say companies have a responsibility to help support them.

The Cone survey is directionally right. But all it really shows is that a large percentage of consumers say they want some vague awareness that a company they are supporting is, in turn, supporting something worthwhile besides the CEO’s boat payments….whatever it might be.

That leaves the bar pretty low for how most companies manage their cause-related marketing.

Reader Comments

Bob McInnis

July 20, 2007 8:32 AM

I agree. We need to find a better way than "been there - got the t-shirt" marketing that provides a halo for the company and a pittance for the cause while devouring volunteer hours with meaningless actions. We need to understand that shopping is not the answer. But how can we provide recognition of direct support from well intentioned companies? Walls of fame, website logos, newsletter mentions, psa's are really just cheap wallpaper. When the support and its results are not enough - what do we do?

Mike Swenson

July 24, 2007 9:15 PM

Let's assume you are correct that people can't match causes with companies that support them. How much more money is spent on advertising campaigns that the same group of consumers can't remember the next day. At least with a cause program, some good is being accomplished. For the record, there is a lot of other data available that shows that people who support causes do know the corporations that support the same causes.

Carol Cone

July 29, 2007 4:00 PM

Good points made.
The funny thing about cause marketing is that it has "come of age" -- it's over 21 if you count the naming of associating a company and a cause, cause marketing, coined by American Express in 1984 with its Statue of Liberty Restoration project. Yet it is still very young, hence your comment that it is hard to recall a precise cause for so many companies.


Companies associating with a cause has actually gone beyond marketing into something we have named, "Cause Branding," wherein the cause lives at the center of the brand or company and helps bring its humanity and values to life. Indeed, practiced with authenticity, the cause becomes a filter for various company actions, whether employee relations, advertising, distribution or consumer relations.

Whirlpool is a company that has reinvented itself, through its commitment to Habitat for Humanity and its dedication to the concept of decent, affordable housing for all. It has added deep emotional ties to its stakeholders through its hands on efforts to build homes, as well as supply them with appliances. It has also added new emotion to its advertising, and has Habitat related programming that has enhanced its relations with partners like Lowes.

Whirlpool is a best practice company. By the way we haven't done any work with them, just admire them tremendously.


The next wave of Cause Branding, call it cause 2.0 is to really commit to this as strategy, not a tactic or just slapping a ribbon on a package.

Done right, means selecting the cause that authentically links with a company, is executed in multiple ways, over the longterm 5+ years, is transparent in its relationships, provides multiple ways of interacting with stakeholders, especially online and is then well communicated.


Cause is no longer a "nice to do but a have to do".It is expected by many stakeholders.
We will see in this cause 2.0 environment, over the coming years, more authentic programming over the longterm that creates highly compelling content for communications. And ultimately citizens will be able to say what companies stand for.

Mike Stone

August 12, 2007 4:45 PM

So how come companies like Gillette tout their support of breast cancer research -- on packages of men's shaving stuff? My reaction is immediately negative. Here is a company that makes zillions off of men's products, don't they at least have a few bucks for prostate cancer?

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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