The Phantom Cause

It’s troubling, as Dress for Success founder Nancy Lublin argues in her recent Fast Company editorial, that intentionally or not, some companies are learning to cause market without the cause. Lublin cites Macy’s “Shop for a Cause” last fall, which promoted its cause-related shopping day through full-page newspaper ads saying simply, “in support of nonprofit groups.” In reality, Macy’s raised more than $9 million dollars through the promotion which benefited several important charitable organizations (listed on its Web site), but consumers reading the ads wouldn’t know that. The nationwide event benefited local organizations, so logistically, communicating these details may have been complicated. Yet that doesn’t preclude Macy’s from providing its nonprofit beneficiaries with the recognition they deserve. In the end, the organizations benefited from the funding, but they did not have access to the immense awareness and brand building power that a well-marketed cause partnership should provide.

Clearly, insufficient details can quickly undermine the credibility of even well-conceived cause programs and may eventually threaten consumer support. For example, a majority of consumers (91%) want to hear about corporate efforts in supporting causes, but far fewer (58%) believe companies are providing sufficient details about their cause marketing efforts. Mitigate this communication disconnect by providing the detail and transparency consumers and other stakeholders need to believe in your campaign. In many states, legal regulations dictate what must be disclosed, but in general, sufficient details should include the nonprofit partner(s), the amount of the donation, the donation cap and/or the portion of each sale which will go toward the cause, and the length of the promotion.


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