Knowledge Leadership Weekly Insights

Pardon the pun, but we’re seeing red. The critics of the (PRODUCT) RED campaign in “Bottom Line for (Red)” in the New York Times this week seem to misunderstand the concept of cause-related marketing. They imply that consumers must choose between supporting a social issue through a donation or with a cause-related purchase. 

Charitable activity, in any form, is not a zero-sum game. Those who buy (RED) products are not doing so in lieu of signing a check. They are not buying a red t-shirt or laptop solely to fulfill their civic duty or some moral obligation. They are buying a red t-shirt or laptop, frankly, because they need clothes or a computer, and the fact that a portion of the price goes to support a global cause is a value-add. Let’s be clear:  cause marketing is not philanthropy (the repurposing of existing wealth); the intent is to create new wealth for both partners. 

Which leads the critics to further cite imbalances between the companies’ advertising expenditures and the amount donated. The good the companies are receiving, in other words, is greater than the good they are giving. While transparency, accountability and balance are critical, this view neglects to acknowledge the benefits of a highly visible campaign, above and beyond the money.  The awareness built around this issue as a result of (RED) is immeasurable, and it may even attract those people who otherwise would not give. Cone’s research has shown that more than three-quarters of Americans have a more positive image of a nonprofit organization involved in a partnership with a company and are more likely to support it.  In fact, 70 percent are more likely to donate money to that charity as a result. 

The (RED) campaign is satisfying consumers’ desire to engage in “conscientious cool” shopping, it provides companies with an opportunity to demonstrate their support of an issue, while--gasp--still marketing their brands, and it has raised funds and awareness for a critical issue.  Cause marketing will not “solve” this health epidemic, nor will pure philanthropy cure the world’s ills, but companies and nonprofits must continue to seek innovative models for change to make any progress at all. According to an official at the Global Fund cited in the article, (RED)’s more than $59 million in contributions has “allowed the fund to divert money to programs in 136 other countries and to increase its visibility.”  All for the price of a t-shirt? Sounds like a smart investment to us.