When it’s played right, giving can beget getting…and this is the season for it. Straight-out philanthropy, or donations for no material return, is the most welcome kind of support for cash-strapped non-profits. But gathering steam over the past half-century has been the concept of cause-related marketing. Using support of, and involvement with, non-profit organizations and social agencies for mutual benefit goes back a long time, but its modern application is just decades old. One of the earliest such national campaigns was 7-Eleven’s Save a Living Thing Campaign, back in the ‘70s. 7-Eleven wanted to increase sales of its Slurpee (was there ever a better-named drink?) product, and the concept of environmentalism was just gaining primacy. The promotion was simple: customers would go into a 7-Eleven and purchase a Slurpee with a bald eagle, a cougar, or another endangered species printed on the outside of the cup; you’d use the cup with the artwork corresponding to the species you wanted to help save. For every cup, a nickel would go to the non-profit organization focusing on helping save that particular species. 7-Eleven obtained reams of positive media coverage and tens of thousands of dollars went to the World Wildlife Fund and similar organizations. American Express is credited with conceiving the term “cause-related marketing,” using that phrase to describe activities that support local charitable causes while promoting business at the same time. Its most successful incarnation was the marketing campaign American Express embarked on to restore the Statue of Liberty in 1983. Each time cardholders would use their card, a penny was donated to the Statue of Liberty renovation campaign. For every new card account opened, the company donated a dollar to the campaign. Over just four months, $2 million was raised According to a 2006 research project, the Cone Millennial Cause Study, 89 percent of Americans would switch from one brand to another of comparable price and quality if the latter brand was associated with a “good cause.” And just in case you think cause marketing is only for the big, national companies, consider Ben Forat, who owns Studio City Car Wash. Ben’s PR consultant, Jack McGrath, recommended that he look into cause-related marketing programs, partially as an antidote to a sign dispute with the City, partially because it’s good business. They selected a local school, Colfax Avenue Elementary, and created a program to benefit both the car wash and the school. The school’s students distribute cards to retailers throughout the area (dry cleaners, restaurants, liquor stores, etc.) that promote using Studio City Car Wash on Sundays, pointing out that by presenting the card, the car wash will make a contribution to the school for the full amount of the wash – $12. So while the car wash doesn’t make any money on the Sunday wash, just imagine the community support, positive PR value, and future business, it receives from the program. But is that type of support given to other for-profit organizations and local non-profits? For example, among the national sponsors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America are such blue-chip names as Coca-Cola, Taco Bell, JCPenney, Major League Baseball Charities, Staples, Microsoft, Staples, AT&T, UPS, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how those national brands translate that support to programs here in Our Valley? Not just annual donations, but actual joint marketing programs that would benefit both the Clubs and the corporate entities. One national sponsor has indeed supported a Valley-based organization. In April, August, and October, Northridge JCPenney customers were invited to “round up” their purchases to the nearest dollar. As a result, just a few weeks ago, $5,226 was donated by JCPenney to the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley for its after-school programs. Good for JCPenney; good for the Boys & Girls Club. Habitat for Humanity’s website lists more than 40 corporate partners, including: Bank of America, Coldwell Banker, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and many more. According to Donna Deutchman, CEO of this region’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate, when Lowe’s in Pacoima held its Grand Opening on June 18, they promoted their Buy a Gift Card, Help Build a Home program. Anyone who purchased a Lowe’s Gift Card that day had their purchase matched by Lowe’s, up to $5,000, to support the next Habitat building project. Perhaps we need a focus on the creativity that inspires businesses here in the Valley figure out how they can help themselves while helping the community. Besides, isn’t December the right time for Santa Cause-related marketing? My father used to say, “You can spend a lot of time making money. The tough time comes when you have to give it away properly.” How to give something back, that’s the tough part in life. –Lee Iacocca Martin Cooper is President of Cooper Communications, Inc. He is a Past Chairman of VICA and Chairman of its Board of Governors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cause-Related Marketing Good for the Bottom Line