As an advertising firm, the same questions always comes up: “How do we use this project to help people? How can we use this to make a real difference?” We, like everyone else, want to contribute to the triple-bottom-line while reaping the financial benefits of the projects we take on. In an effort to do this we see companies integrating marketing principles with sustainability projects, resulting in what American Express coined as Cause Related Marketing (CRM) circa 1983.
CRM programs involve a commitment to making a contribution or donating a percentage of profit to a cause based on product sales. It’s mutually beneficial in the sense that the program has the potential to raise funds and awareness for the cause as well as increase sales for the company – think ProductRED or General Mills’ Box Tops for Education. Self-interest combined with altruism; marketing combined with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In CRM, program effectiveness is easily measured (dollars raised, financial contributions, increased consumer engagement, products sold, etc.).
A couple months ago, I finished about a year’s worth of research trying to prove that Cause Branding or CB (not CRM) was a more effective way of engaging in CSR. CB is an extension of CRM and is a process of aligning corporate goals with a social cause to create a long-term commitment in which social responsibility becomes a part of corporate identity. There’s little research about the topic, making program effectiveness difficult to pinpoint.
What I originally sought to prove was that CB campaigns bring a unique value to a company’s CSR initiatives, mainly because in CB the emphasis is placed on creating programs that put social interest above self-interest (or financial goals). What I ended up with was a model and framework for understanding how CB and CRM programs differ and 11 guiding principles for engaging in effective Cause Branding.
It’s too early to say whether the guiding principles can be definitively construed as best practices for engaging in CB (or if CB is a more effective approach to CSR than CRM). But, maybe there’s a happy medium between CB and CRM where financial goals and the quest for sustainable social change can live happily ever after.
In any case, it’s definitely exciting to be a part of the defining stages of what many of us seem to be trying to tap into when creating strategic programs.
About the Author
Planning & Strategy
Carolyn has had her conative strengths scientifically tested. As it turns out she is a 7 Fact Finder. It means that in order to make a decision she must first ask every conceivable question before deciding to go a certain direction. This personality trait makes her perfect as lead Planner and Strategist for client communications here at The Metrick System - exploring countless avenues to arrive at the best path for success. Her Masters Degree in Corporate Communication from Rutgers doesn't hurt either. Just don't ask her what toppings she wants on her pizza. You may have to clear your schedule.