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Defining Cause-Marketing

July 20, 2010

Photo credit: ThomasThomas via Creative Commons License through Flickr. The photographer does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in this article.

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As a philosopher Albert Einstein was incredibly interested in human potential. In his speech “The Common Language of Science” he argued that all humanity had to do to progress was simply determine a goal and our knowledge of science and ingenuity would allow us to achieve it. Despite having the means to accomplish any objective we set for ourselves, Einstein keenly observed a lack of a common goal (he gave the speech in 1941). He described this juxtaposition of the ability to achieve almost anything but lack of a unified direction as a, “perfection of means and confusion of goals.”

Fast-forward to today and our society is drastically changed, and I would argue it is improved. For evidence, one simply has to look the impressive quantity and value of socially and environmental business practices that is now a billion dollars industry. In fact, we are at a point in American culture -and in much of the world- where socially and environmentally awareness is becoming increasingly more common.

In my research into cause marketing, however, I found that despite a broad interest in improving society and the environment through business, the means or methods of our approach are becoming muddled. Terms that are similar but not synonymous are being used interchangeably. Likewise, terms that once connoted a single meaning are being broken up into multiple terms or phrases that still share the same definition. In a literal and exaggerated reversal of Einstein’s statement, we have a perfection of the goal and a confusion of the means.

This conflation of related business tools runs the risk of perpetuating general confusion about the field as a whole and simultaneously limiting the understanding of the unique advantages each method presents to businesses, non-profits, and the world around them. For that reason, over the next few weeks I will generate a glossary of this field’s unique lexicon, with the goal of clarifying the differences of the various admirable business practices that benefit more than a company’s bottom line.

First up is the term “cause-marketing.”

Cause marketing (interchangeable with cause-related marketing):

Although as a practice cause-marketing shares many common traits with other types of marketing, giving, or fundraising efforts for social, charitable, and philanthropic organizations, these terms are by no means the same.

Definition: Cause-marketing is a potentially profit-making initiative by a for-profit company or brand to raise awareness, money, and/or consumer engagement in a social or environmental issue.

Statistically, studies show that as a business practice cause-marketing is -and will continue to grow- as an effective way to both increase financial gain and support a cause. In other words, cause marketing presents a unique opportunity for companies to simultaneously do well and do good, or better yet, to do well by doing good (see 2008 Cone Cause Evolution Study, 2008 Edelman goodpurpose™ Consumer Study, 2008 Barkley Cause Survey, 2009 Cone, Inc. Consumer Environmental Survey, 2009 Edelman goodpurpose™ Consumer Study, 2009 Barkley Cause Survey).

Purpose: To raise money and awareness for the company and the cause and to increase engagement with a company’s brand or product.

Attributes: Cause-marketing at its core has three major components:

  1. A product, often (but not always) a tangible item that can be bought and sold
  2. A partnership between the corporation behind that product and a non-profit or cause-based institution
  3. And a way to generate for profit


Product Sales: TUMS: “TUMS Helps Put Out More Fires Than You Think”, 2003

Cause: In 2003, the cost to train and equip a firefighter was roughly $4,500, with equipment costing close to $1,000 alone (Paul Davis, founder of the First Responder Institute).

Partnership: TUMS partnered with First Responder Institute.

Methodology: TUMS donated 10 cents for every bottle of TUMS sold. The cause-marketing campaign was supported via print media advertising, point-of-sale displays, and materials in retail stores nationwide, featuring actual firefighters who have joined the TUMS/FRI campaign.

Results: TUMS donated $238,000 to the First Responder Institute, which in turn funded 60 Fire departments throughout the United States. Additionally, TUMS saw a 16% increase in sales and a 30% increase in the number of displays shipped to stores (see

Brand Engagement: OfficeMax “A Day Made Better”, 2007

Cause: Every year teachers spend over $1,000 annually on classroom supplies, roughly $4 billion annually, a trend known as “teacher-funded classrooms”.

Partnership: OfficeMax partnered with Adopt-A-Classroom.

Methodology: Through coupons, the sale of products, and heavy media coverage, OfficeMax was able to raise money and awareness about the issue.

Results: OfficeMax and Adopt-A-Classroom program where one day a year over and awarded 1,100 teachers over $1,000 in school supplies, raised awareness to this cause, and helped create the brand image of supporting teachers.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 10:04 am

    I think that your definition is close but overlaps Corporate Social Responsibility. Cause-Marketing does involve philanthropy and/or non-profits, however, the focus is to reach the corporation’s objectives. Corporate Social Responsibility generates an equally beneficial outcome for the corporation and the affiliate. The difference is Marketing and Public Relations.

  2. Harry Frechette permalink
    July 26, 2010 9:18 am

    I love the Einstein quote and agree with it whole heartedly. From recent US culture I would add the Kennedy’s vision to get a man on the moon and back and King’s “I have a Dream speech as examples of clear visions but without the path clear as to how to do it, science, technology, and persistence, the means, have found the way. However I would argue that today there isn’t a clear goal and certainly not a vision of what the world would look like if we all behaved in socially responsible ways. With out this clarity of vision and the emotional commitment it must bring to have motivational power we have a fragmented approach much as the author describes. What is useful in the cause marketing approach is that it does make clear the goals on a ‘micro’ level making it accessible and clear what the benefits are if you buy the product or use the service. Cause marketing strikes me as being analogous to a grass roots movement for the much larger issue of making the world a better and longer lasting place. A wonderful first step.

  3. August 12, 2010 3:37 pm

    Wonderful post.I would just add few words that the key to a successful cause-marketing partnership is finding a cause whose mission is compatible with yours and cultivating an authentic,mutual relationship.It is also essential that the partner we choose:
    Is friendly to your business mission.
    Aligned with your values
    Able to reach the markets you want to reach
    If they don’t fit these guidelines,we should not try”work something out” as it would lead to failure of our mission.
    And the thing to remember,Cooperation for mutual gain and for the good of the world is the guiding principle behind cause marketing.

    • Henry Frechette permalink
      August 13, 2010 4:32 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment. I absolutely agree: The partnership between a non-profit and a corporation cannot be arbitrary otherwise the goals of the partnership will be less likely to succeed.

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