Cause-marketing is here to stay
“If your business or brand doesn’t stand for a cause, consumers may turn to your competitors,” says Kim T. Gordon in her article in Entrepreneur magazine entitled Cause Marketing Matters to Consumers. “Social responsibility makes consumers take notice.”
A few days ago Gillette, the razor company, released an ad expanding on their tag-line, “The best a man can get.” It started with images of a horde of menacing boys chasing another one and then cut to another young boy being comforted by his mother after being bullied and called a freak. Next were scenes of women being belittled and harassed, both at work and on the street. The voice-over said, “It’s been going on for far too long and we can’t laugh it off-making the same old excuses, ‘boys will be boys.’ But there will be no going back because we believe in the best in men.”
What came next were images of fathers breaking up fights between boys and otherwise standing up for boys who were being bullied. It showed friends telling their pals that their entitled, harassing behavior around women wasn’t cool. The spot ended with this statement:
The gist of the ad was that it’s not enough to be a good guy who doesn’t bully and harass. We need more men to step up and help co-create a better society by taking an active role in modeling good behavior and speaking out when they see it lacking. The backlash was immediate and loud. Within a matter of hours there were articles, videos and social media streams condemning Gillette for stepping past their purvue as a company and for ostensibly attacking men. There was also a lot of praise for the company for openly taking on serious social issues.
Last September, Nike released an ad with a similar feel and message featuring Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback who had sparked controversy by kneeling during the national anthem. Kaepernick has since been effectively blacklisted from the NFL. The Nike ad advised, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” The backlash to this ad was also swift and vociferous. There were calls to boycott Nike and public burnings of their products. But sales of Nike products also spiked dramatically in a short period of time just after the ad aired.
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What we are seeing with both of these ads is cause marketing. “Cause marketing is defined as a type of corporate social responsibility, in which a company’s promotional campaign has the dual purpose of increasing profitability while bettering society. It’s not a new concept and has been taking place since at least the 1970s, but it does seem that cause marketing is really coming into it’s heyday.
A recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine states that in this age of information overload and a myriad of ways to either avoid or block advertising, ads that speak to values as well as showcase products are the ones that make the most impact.
Instead, young people are choosing to engage with the brands that share their values and beliefs. In fact, 64 percent of consumers around the world now buy on belief. At the same time, one in two will choose, switch or boycott a brand based on its stand on a societal issue. The consumers of today are more informed and empowered than ever before. They have all the tools at their disposal to control the relationship they want to have with brands. In this new age of Information, it’s no longer enough to communicate a message, in the hope that it will resonate. To remain relevant, brands need to talk less and do more for people and planet.
The brands that have a purpose beyond profit will not only survive but thrive in this new age of conscious consumerism. Research carried out by Havas shows that meaningful brands have outperformed the stock market by 206 percent over the last 10 years. Enlightened brands recognize this reality and are transforming their entire modus operandi to meet young consumers changing expectation.
BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, has also expressed its desire to support and invest in companies that have a wider view beyond profit alone. In his 2019 letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink had this to say,
Unnerved by fundamental economic changes and the failure of government to provide lasting solutions, society is increasingly looking to companies, both public and private, to address pressing social and economic issues. These issues range from protecting the environment to retirement to gender and racial inequality, among others. Fueled in part by social media, public pressures on corporations build faster and reach further than ever before. In addition to these pressures, companies must navigate the complexities of a late-cycle financial environment — including increased volatility — which can create incentives to maximize short-term returns at the expense of long-term growth.
The World Needs Your Leadership
As a CEO myself, I feel firsthand the pressures companies face in today’s polarized environment and the challenges of navigating them. Stakeholders are pushing companies to wade into sensitive social and political issues — especially as they see governments failing to do so effectively. As CEOs, we don’t always get it right. And what is appropriate for one company may not be for another.
One thing, however, is certain: the world needs your leadership. As divisions continue to deepen, companies must demonstrate their commitment to the countries, regions, and communities where they operate, particularly on issues central to the world’s future prosperity. Companies cannot solve every issue of public importance, but there are many — from retirement to infrastructure to preparing workers for the jobs of the future — that cannot be solved without corporate leadership.
Cause marketing may make waves and generate some loss of core consumers, but it also seems to come with an overall positive outcome, in increased profits, in attracting investors, and in engaging with consumers who are inundated with information. I anticipate that in the days and weeks ahead the Gillette ad will have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line and I look forward to seeing what the next big cause marketing campaign will be.
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