The Super Bowl And The Rise Of Causevertising

This week, Cone Communications Vice President of Social ImpactZiba Cranmer, examines "causevertising" past and present on Prove Your Purpose.

The customary hype around Super Bowl commercials had me thinking about the place of cause in advertising. Most companies have implemented some form of cause marketing as part of their overall strategy and yet, given the importance of emotion in effective storytelling, it is surprising how few of these same companies have leveraged cause as an advertising mechanism. But, if the recent Super Bowl line-up is any indication, this may be changing.

Two of the most popular ads unveiled at the Super Bowl stood out for telling the brand story through a cause partnership. Dodge leveraged the iconic voice and words of broadcast legend Paul Harvey to establish their support for the American farmer. Oprah then told the story of Jeep's partnership with the USO and their support for returning soldiers.

Perhaps advertisers are waking up to the fact that not only are consumers more attracted to brands that align with causes, but that tying your advertising to the emotion of a cause can help you break through the commercial clutter. Most advertising campaigns are evaluated according to several criteria: resonance, recall and engagement. Cause can give you all of these.

  • Resonance: Does the ad have sufficient emotionality to break through?
  • Recall: Does the ad intuitively tell the story of your brand or product attributes?
  • Engagement: Does the ad offer opportunities for consumers to take action?

Applying this framework to a few of the recent Super Bowl "causevertisements" – as well as to other past and present best practice examples – provides a useful illustration of the effectiveness of cause advertising.  

Dodge Ram "So God Made a Farmer"
Dodge Ram paid tribute to the American farmer and established an intuitive connection between this national icon and it's "guts and glory" brand. More than 11 million views on YouTube alone suggest that this ad is truly connecting with consumers.

  • Resonance: Leveraging the iconic voice of Paul Harvey was a stroke of genius. The pairing of poignant, human photographs with Harvey's powerful poem "So God Made a Farmer," is undeniably emotional and unforgettable. Dodge Ram becomes forever associated as the trusted tool of the embattled farmer in America's Heartland.
  • Recall: The absence of a clear product throughout most of the ad creates an intriguing suspense for the consumer. Once the brand is officially announced, the Dodge Ram Truck is burned in the memory of the viewer.
  • Engagement: Dodge ends the commercial with a link to their "Year of the Farmer" website where consumers are directed to share a badge triggering a $1 donation to support the National FFA.

Jeep/ USO "Whole Again"
Jeep was smart to take up the cause of returning military personnel. It's a contemporary issue that is also a good fit for their "all American" image.

  • Resonance: The ad grabs the viewer's attention, and keeps it, with moving images of the moment of impact when soldiers return home to their families.
  • Recall: The ad lingers with the viewer because of the clear tie between Jeep as a car company, and the act of troops embarking on the final miles of their journey back home. Jeep becomes not just a convenience, but a necessity.
  • Engagement: The ad closes with a URL where consumers are directed to tweet #joinOSR hashtag to trigger a $1 donation to the USO. After seeing the raw emotion that results when military personnel finally make it home again, who could resist?

While it is encouraging to see the budding seeds of a growing appetite for causevertising, there are very few examples already out there, and even fewer where it has been done well. Here are a couple of my favorites from over the years, starting with what many argue was the first example of causevertising which came from Dawn:

P&G's Dawn "Save Wildlife"
The best (and oldest) example of causevertising was created by P&G for its dishwashing detergent Dawn. Here's the run down:

  • Resonance: Dawn taps into the emotionality of saving wildlife, in this case cute ducks and baby seals covered in sludge from an ocean oil spill. Starting with the Exxon Valdez spill over a decade ago and continuing with the more recent Gulf of Mexico disaster, we've all learned to care about the defenseless wildlife that cross our paths.
  • Recall: The discovery by a wildlife scientist of the efficacy of Dawn as a tool for removing oil from tender wildlife was an incredible gift to this brand. It allows Dawn to tell the story of how their product is "gentle but gets out the grease," with unshakable credibility reinforced by a duck covered in oil and suds.
  • Engagement: The ad directs consumers to a website where they can activate donations from Dawn to the National Wildlife Federation. P&G was ahead of the curve in activating consumers with imagery of irresistibly cute animals.

Pedigree "Going Home"
Like Dawn, Pedigree is a slightly different example that taps into the passion and protective instincts of dog owners to make sure that even shelter dogs have a chance to "go home" to a family that will provide them with health and happiness (and Pedigree dog food).

  • Resonance: Emotionality is established through imagery and storytelling about how Pedigree is helping feed and find homes for shelter dogs. Seeing these dogs on their way home to new, loving families, and then curling up with their new owners, tugs the heart strings of anyone who loves dogs.
  • Recall: The advertisement makes a connection between Pedigree's key product promise of "happy and healthy" dogs, and the cause promise of the Pedigree Foundation's Adopt-A-Dog Drive to make sure shelter dogs have their own chance to be happy and healthy.
  • Engagement: "Going Home" drives consumers to Facebook where there are a range of actions consumers can take to engage in and support Pedigree's Adoption program. The options mean you don't even have to be a dog owner, or adopter, to take action as a dog lover.

A few others causevertisements from over the years that I love include Nike's "Let Me Play" and Dove's "Real Beauty" commercial. While these don't necessarily hit all the buckets of effective causevertising, they definitely establish resonance through emotional storytelling, and not to mention hitting my personal passion for girls' empowerment!

As one of the most effective tools in the cause marketing toolbox, I really hope brands will see the power of causevertising and do more of it!  

Tell us, what are your favorite causevertisements? Use the hashtag #ConeCSR on Twitter and let us know!


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