Pillar #3 of the 6 Pillars of Effective Cause Marketing - Be Transparent & Authentic

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Pillar #3 of the 6 Pillars of Effective Cause Marketing - Be Transparent & Authentic

The third post of a series of six discussing effective cause marketing principals
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At Incite, we believe the most effective cause marketing campaigns are crafted with careful consideration of a company’s consumers, employees and key partners. Here in a series of six blog posts, we demonstrate the importance of understanding the causes and issues that are relevant to these stakeholder groups and present six critical pillars for developing effective cause marketing campaigns.

Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 10:00am

CAMPAIGN: 6 Pillars of Effective Cause Marketing



Tell your consumers exactly how your cause marketing partnership works. Tell them exactly where their donations are going. Tell them how much money from each of the products or services purchased is directed to your nonprofit partner. Being honest and upfront with your consumers encourages them to get involved and become brand ambassadors for your cause marketing efforts. Engage your consumers to help tell your story. People are the best marketing medium to drive your brand’s messaging.

Transparency in the cause marketing space is becoming more important than ever. In a recent article in the Toronto Star, the author examined the possibility of cause marketing actually hurting nonprofit organizations. The article suggested that if a consumer purchases a product, i.e. a $40 t-shirt, with the understanding that a portion of the proceeds would go to a certain charity, and the exact donation amount of the purchase price was not defined, then the purchaser often believes a very high portion of the total spend is donated to the cause. For example, if the purchaser assumed $35 of the price of the shirt would be donated to the cause because it was not defined, the purchaser may feel they have done their part and not donate to the cause again for many months. In that scenario, if only $1 of the shirt purchase was actually donated to the cause, that cause could indeed be missing out on many more dollars from that donor because of a misunderstanding related to the amount of actual funds donated. Bearing this in mind, it is imperative to be transparent so consumers know exactly what to expect with regard to their purchase or participation in your cause marketing campaign.

PILLAR THREE SHOWDOWN - Subaru’s “Share the Love” campaign vs. McDonald’s “Hope” Campaign

Subaru's "Share the Love" Campaign - Cause Marketing Concept: When customers purchase a new Subaru (this year between Nov. 19 through Jan. 3), they get to choose one of five charities (American Forests, ASPCA, Make-A-Wish, Meals on Wheels or the Special Olympics) to which Subaru will donate $250 on the customer’s behalf.

When a seasonal cause marketing campaign like the “Share the Love” event endures and evolves, you can bet that many of the pillars we have discussed are clearly established and at work in the campaign. In addition, it is likely that the team and brand behind the campaign have a firm commitment to the program. Subaru has clearly dedicated the proper resources necessary to understand the causes and issues important to their consumers, has effectively managed the campaign communication to target audiences, and has efficiently executed each iteration of their “Share the Love” event. Subaru has donated nearly $15 million dollars to charity since the inception of the “Share the Love” event nearly three years ago, and their return on investment is certainly worth it. Some quick math reveals that this cause marketing effort has helped Subaru sell at least 60,000 automobiles.

THE SCORECARD: For transparency, Subaru deserves high marks. In all of their broadcast commercials as well as on their website, they state clearly how their campaign works. When you buy a Subaru, the company allows the purchaser to choose one of five clearly identified nonprofit organizations to receive the charitable donation. They also clearly state that they have already raised $15 million and, in 2011, are looking to raise $5 million more. The only rule that is not clearly stated up front and requires a bit of digging around on their website to find is the actual timeframe of the campaign. The dates this campaign is active are only seasonal and some consumers might assume that Subaru executes this program year round.

McDonald's Hope Campaign - Cause Marketing Concept: For every Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal sold at participating McDonald’s restaurant locations, a portion of the proceeds go to Ronald McDonald House Charities.


To launch their “Hope” campaign via television, McDonald’s chose to feature children “searching for hope” inside of their Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal. In the commercial, a young child states that “every time you get a Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal, some of the money goes to Ronald McDonald House Charities to help lots of kids and families.”

While technically true, this message is misleading due to its lack of transparency. If a consumer was sitting one-inch away from their TV or monitor while viewing this commercial, they would notice very fine white print flash across the screen for one to two seconds that states: “McDonald’s donates a penny for every Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal sold, at participating McDonald’s beginning June 25, 2010.” Words used in this ad like “some” money to help “lots” of kids and families creates confusion and lack of clarity. A viewer certainly would not naturally assume that McDonald’s is only donating the absolute minimal amount possible (one penny) for every Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal sold. The fine print is a weak attempt at transparency. McDonald’s clearly does not want consumers to know that they only donate one penny from the sale of their Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals to Ronald McDonald House Charities, at participating restaurants. Due to the potential of a large amount of sales of Happy Meals, McDonald’s could have effectively said donations up to a certain number will be made.


Nick Cavarra
+1 (818) 238-6630
Incite - Social Impact Marketing