Cause Marketing Amidst A Season Of Contradictions

Consumers are struggling to pay their own bills but desperately want to buy meaningful holiday presents. They are less likely to open their tight wallets and donate to worthy causes, but they can’t help but feel a deep sense of compassion for those less fortunate as their friends and family members are laid off and the basic health and human services organizations are unable to meet the growing demand.

Companies too are conflicted. As they face layoffs and their stock prices continue to plummet, they also see increased pressure from their loyal nonprofit partners and communities groups to give back during these difficult times.

While I am not pretending that there is a silver bullet solution for these complex problems, I feel obligated to show you how some leading companies are recognizing that by tapping the hearts and wallets of the thousands, or even millions, of consumers that walk through their doors, they can in fact “do well by doing good.” 

I have been pleasantly surprised by the abundance of very visible cause marketing programs during my many trips to the mall this holiday season. I have to admit, I was concerned that companies would overlook cause marketing in favor of increased price cuts to attract consumers. But pay attention: companies continue to not only maintain their support of causes, but they are also investing in marketing these programs to increase awareness of their efforts and help raise funds for worthy causes. Here are just a few examples:

  • Macy’s “Believe” campaign is donating $1 to the Make-a-Wish Foundation for every letter to Santa dropped in its stores.  
  • Kohl’s “Care for Kids” has Curious George plush animals it is selling for $5 with 100% of the net profit from the sale of these items supporting health and educational opportunities for children nationwide.
  • Sears’ “ Heroes At Home Wish Registry ” allows shoppers to donate money that goes to military families in the form of Sears gift cards to purchase items on their “wish lists.” 
  • Yankee Candle is donating $1 to the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women movement for the sale of every 14.5 oz. Go Red For Women custom candle in the Macintosh fragrance.  Additionally, they will donate 10% of the net proceeds from the sale of the new Red Dress Car Jar® auto air freshener.
  • Starbucks Product (RED) promotion :  a portion of proceeds from the sale of exclusive holiday beverages is donated to the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa. 
  • Jockey Being Family is Jockey International’s corporate citizenship initiative to help strengthen adoptive families for successful futures. The Jockey Being Family Bear helps to support newly adoptive families, as for each bear sold, Jockey donates $3 to the Debra Steigerwaldt Waller Foundation for Adoption and charities supporting adoption.
  • Cartier's holiday card collection designed The Art of Elysium kids and will donate all of the profits to the charity.
  • Gap ran a special friends and family promotion called “Give and Get.” Customers received a 30% discount e-coupon and were prompted to select their “charity of choice” from a short list of potentials. The charity in turn receives 5% of proceeds from designated purchases. Once selected, the Gap then automatically sent a new email to the customer designed to pass on to friends and family to partake in the discount, while accruing more donations for his or her very own designated charity.
  • And finally, St. Jude’s “Thanks and Giving” program is everywhere. Robin Williams and Jennifer Aniston are visibly promoting the campaign through heartfelt PSAs aired during prime time.  CVS, Pottery Barn, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Ann Taylor ask consumers for a dollar at check-out. Other retailers like Brooks Brothers and Kay Jewelers are tying in a donation to the sale of a specific products. 

These leading companies, among dozens of others, are recognizing that consumers want to buy meaningful gifts this holiday season that not only alleviate the pressures on their wallets but also their consciousness. While Americans may not be as inclined to write a check, they remain more than willing to do their part in buying products from companies who share their concern about others in need. These companies are tapping their assets beyond just cash (such as their foot traffic, product offerings and marketing) to raise funds and awareness for critical social issues.

Companies who recognize the mindset of consumers this season and maintain their commitment to causes during these difficult times will gain a competitive advantage today and after the recession is over. 


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