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Social Enterprise: The Future of Cause Marketing?

February 12, 2014

I am a big fan of The Cause Marketing Forum. It’s the go-to place for information on starting a CM program and networking with the those that are creating value through this niche form of marketing. Their Cause Update blog does a great job of briefly summarizing new cause marketing programs and it was through that blog that I first heard about The Big C Competition. Essentially this competition, launched by the LIVESTRONG Foundation, will seek to fund entrepreneurial organizations that are addressing the needs of those living with cancer or caring for cancer patients. In total, sixty ventures will receive $140,000 and the grand prize winner gets $25,000.

This program stands in contrast to a lot of other cause marketing programs that are rather… transactional. You buy one product and a certain dollar figure or percentage or the “proceeds” go to a specific charity. There’s nothing wrong (usually) with these types of programs. It’s just that they’re… well… boring. Yes, it takes a lot of branding, logistics, marketing, public relations, legal, and financial arrangements to pull these types of programs off successfully. I’m not asking the cause marketing field to kill these programs. But it’s just so… expected.

The Big C Competition is hardly a new idea either. Years ago, in 2008, Sam Adams launched a truly great program, Brewing the American Dream.  The program provides small business loans to budding companies and the brewery heavily promoted it (among many other activities). As a small business owner myself, I can tell you how daunting it is to look into business financing (if you’re a banker, please don’t contact me, I’m all good! Thanks though!).  It’s a great example of an authentic cause program: the founder of the brewery, Jim Koch, had struggled to find financing of his own when he started one of America’s best known (nowadays) craft breweries. It also speaks to a unique, contrasting combination of how I view the Sam Adams brand: a company that has emerged as the innovating establishment in a disruptive sub-industry (craft brewing).

So it begs the question… Given the context in which these two programs take place, is cause marketing stuck in a rut? Are efforts like Big C and Brewing the American Dream examples of innovation in this field? 

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