Gives Companies and Their Communities Cause to Celebrate
When the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of American freedom,
needed costly repairs for its 1986 centennial celebration, it wasn’t the
government, a museum or wealthy philanthropist that stepped in. It was the
American Express Co. that launched a three-month initiative, the Statue of
Liberty Restoration Project, to raise funds with the help of consumers. For
each credit card transaction, the company donated one cent to the restoration
fund; for each new card application, it donated a dollar. The public responded
overwhelmingly, boosting card use and new applications to raise close to $2
million dollars for statue restoration.
American Express received kudos from the public and the
world. Its campaign marked the birth of an exciting business trend called
“cause-related marketing,” which has soared in popularity over the
last 20 years. As recently as late 2003, American Express continued its
tradition of cause-related marketing by launching a campaign to fund safety
improvements that would enable the Statue of Liberty, closed since Sept. 11,
2001, to reopen its doors.
Cause-related marketing has become a cornerstone of
corporate social responsibility, which is about aligning business success with support
for the community and society as a whole. Specifically, cause-related marketing
means “giving back” to communities by joining forces with
non-profit organizations to accomplish something for the greater good, while
raising public awareness of a company’s corporate and product brands.
In today’s socially conscious world, cause-related
marketing could be an integral part of every corporate brand and span
everything from advertising and promotions to public relations activities. An
effective cause-related marketing program not only enhances a company’s
brand image, it can enhance its financial bottom line while bringing needed
support to communities. Consumers want to give their business to socially
responsible companies, so the value of cause-related marketing is well worth
the time and effort a company invests.
A good first step is to form a dedicated committee or
department that will spearhead a search for the right cause and non-profit
partner. This team would perform the following functions.
* Manage the relationship.
* Identify any legal stumbling blocks.
* Develop strategic messaging.
* Oversee communications and creative execution for
all related media campaigns.
* Measure return on investment with specific criteria
such as the dollar amount raised for charity or an increase in sales revenue.
Ultimately, the right cause-related marketing program also
will become an integral part of the company culture and involve employees on
While many businesses have launched cause-related marketing
programs successfully, mistakes are common. For instance, some companies
substitute cash donations for true cause-related marketing programs. But most
consumers today expect companies to do more than write checks; they prefer to
see philanthropy in action. Another common mistake is basing a program on an
executive’s pet charity rather than on the pulse of the community.
Cause-related marketing programs should be developed partly based on employee,
shareholder and customer input, which can be collected with focus groups and
Cause-related marketing is a complex, rigorous discipline
that is both time and resource-intensive, so you also can consider outsourcing
to public relations and marketing agencies that have proven expertise. Agencies
can help companies handle everything from selecting the right charity and
managing the relationship to strategic messaging, creative execution and
campaign results analysis.
Creating a program true to a company’s mission and
that brings value to both business and community, is critical to success. When
done right, cause-related marketing can give companies, non-profit partners and
communities cause to celebrate.