Is Twitter Cause Marketing Cause For Celebration?

Today, cause marketing execution rarely exists without social media. Savvy cause marketers integrate social media into their campaigns to drive awareness and affinity – but can social media also become a direct sales tool? The recent partnership between fashion designer Donna Karan's Urban Zen Foundation and American Express aims to do just that, taking cause-related products off the shelves and into your Twitter feed.

Launched last week at New York Fashion Week and part of the AmexSync campaign, American Express cardholders can now purchase an $80 Urban Zen bracelet to benefit Haiti. To buy the bracelet, cardholders simply tweet the hashtag #BuyUrbanZenBracelet; they are then prompted to sync their American Express cards and confirm the purchase by tweeting to @AmexSync. The promotion is just one of the many deals American Express is running as part of the Amex Sync program, but is the only cause-related activation we've seen so far.

The campaign has turned heads at Mashable and the Cause Marketing Forum, and while the Urban Zen bracelet program gets kudos for its unique approach, it's yet to be seen if it will garner consumer interest and deliver true impact for the cause. Although the campaign is getting media attention, it doesn't seem to be grabbing consumer attention… yet. Our own quick Radian6 search* returned just over 100 tweets using the hashtag #BuyUrbanZenBracelet – many of them coming from American Express and Urban Zen Twitter handles. Similarly, consumer chatter around the program, while overwhelmingly positive, is minimal – our search turned up a little more than 100 tweets related to the promotion**. 

So why has a campaign with so much media buzz garnered so little social engagement? At this early stage, there may be a couple of missteps at play:

1. We don't know how we're helping. Consumers want to know how their cause purchases will have impact, but to-date, specifics about how proceeds from bracelet sales will benefit Haiti – the country or its people – have been hard to find. At $80 per bracelet, Urban Zen would do well to communicate the diverse returns, and ensure consumers understand the issue and how they're helping.

2. The channel may not match the brand. Although both Urban Zen and Donna Karan (through DKNY PR Girl @dkny) maintain a social media presence, Karan the designer does not have a personal Twitter handle and admits that social media is not her strong point; she states, “I let other people figure that out for me.” Despite what seems to be an evident personal passion for Haiti, Karan’s noticeable absence from Twitter makes a product sold through Twitter seem out of left field. Karan fans may not be used to interacting with her or her brands online – meaning she’s not engaging with her core audience in the channels they are used to engaging.

Time will tell how the Urban Zen/Amex program shakes out – it does represent an entirely new horizon for cause marketers. In the case of this promotion, we think more work is needed to better integrate the program with the brand and the channel before it gives us cause for celebration.

What are you thoughts? Would you purchase a cause-related product through Twitter? Tell us your thoughts on Twitter using hashtag #ConeCSR.

*Based on a Radian6 search on 2/21/13 using keywords including #BuyUrbanZenBracelet and @AmexSync.

**Based on a Radian6 search from 2/21/13 using a range of keywords which included "Donna Karan," "Amex," "@AmericanExpress" and "Urban Zen.


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