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Making Cause Marketing Count

(Aug. 23, 2011) In recent years, for-profit companies have been quick to align themselves with prominent nonprofit brands to enhance their image and increase sales. Consumers, however, are growing skeptical about the sincerity of companies’ cause related marketing programs and overwhelmed by their sheer number.

People have high expectations of companies to support charitable causes. Overall, 68 percent of U.S. consumers recently surveyed by the public relations firm MSLGROUP said that they expect the companies they do business with to support causes. The number is even higher among women (73 percent) and young adults age 18-24 (83 percent). However, nearly three quarters (74 percent) agreed that there is often too much of a disconnect between the causes companies support and the brands/products they sell.

The survey by MSLGROUP involved 1,000 U.S. adults age 18 and above. Of those surveyed, 67 percent felt that companies only support causes to sell more products, a sign of skepticism among consumers.

Strong Potential

There is interest by consumers to support causes that are important to them through their purchases. Nearly every person surveyed (95 percent) could identify two or three causes that they felt companies should address through corporate social responsibility activities. However, only 37 percent said they purchased brands/products in the past year that supported causes they care about. This is significantly lower than the percentage of this group that donated to charitable causes in the past year (61 percent).

"These findings suggest that simply tying a cause to your product to get consumers to purchase is no longer enough, despite what others are telling you," said Scott Beaudoin, SVP, North America Director of Cause Marketing and CSR at MSLGROUP, in a press release.  "In order to connect with consumers in an authentic and meaningful way, companies need to elevate beyond purpose-driven table stakes and better align their core competencies with societal needs in order to fuel greater participation and profits."

More than just feeling good about the cause that their purchase supports, consumers indicated that they want to know how the donation is being used and how it is advancing the cause. They also want to know what connection exists between the company and the cause.

Authentic and Transparent

Respondents said it is “very important” for companies to communicate the following about their corporate social responsibility programs.

  • Where donation is going/how money will be used – 79 percent
  • The outcomes/impact of programs – 65 percent
  • Why the company supports the cause – 58 percent
  • How people can get involved to also support the cause – 57 percent
  • How much money the company is donating to the cause – 56 percent
  • Company’s goals for the cause program – 50 percent
  • Length of time company has/plans to support the cause – 43 percent

Results of the 2011 research show that consumers are willing to support causes that aren't necessarily the causes they care most about. In fact, more than half (55 percent) of Americans surveyed gave their time and/or money in the past year to support hunger, yet only twenty-two percent  ranked hunger among the top three causes they view as most important. These gaps between the issues consumers rank most important and those they actually support also appeared among the issues of poverty and homelessness.

"This latest data shows us that what is most important is not that companies merely create cause programs to support the causes their consumers care most about, but that companies are strategically aligning with relevant, real causes that fit within their brands' greater purpose and make the most sense in conjunction with their products and services," said Anne Erhard, SVP, Account Director in the Cause Marketing and CSR group.

In the end, consumers have expressed interest in doing business with companies that support causes, however the relationship between the company and the causes needs to be authentic—and more than just a logo. As with other forms of solicitation, donors want transparency about where the money is going and they want to know what will be the end result. Above all, they want to know if the company is committed to the cause as much as they are to sales.

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