Cause-Related Marketing: a Socially Responsible Company or a PR Stunt?

Lush Store (Source: boston.com)

A few days ago, I went shopping with my friends at Glendale Galleria. We passed a Lush store and were attracted by a notice on the board at the entrance of the store, which said if you brought back 5 black pots to any Lush shop, you could get a free Fresh Face Mask. The black pots from Lush were made from post-consumer recycled material and could be recycled again after use. This is not only a great deal for consumers, but also shows that Lush cares about the environment and is a socially responsible company.

Lush Black Pots (Source: Lush Cosmetics Facebook Page)

I’m quite sure that Lush is not the only brand that realizes the importance of engaging with social and environmental causes. Cause-related marketing, which is described as a general connection between businesses and non-profit causes that provide resources and funding to address social issues and business marketing objectives, is probably one of the most effective ways for businesses to enhance their consumers’ perceptions and brand images.

Cone Communications, which is a PR agency, recently launched an online survey to study consumers’ purchasing of products associated with social causes. 89% of the respondents claim that they would buy a brand associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality ahead of one that had no such link. Alison DaSilva, executive vice president for Research & Insights at Cone Communications, said, “consumer demand for cause is stronger than ever, solidifying it as a savvy business strategy.”

cone_communications_logo

Cone Communications Logo (Source: tiki-toki.com)

However, the survey also showed that only 16% of the respondents thought companies had made a significant positive impact on social or environmental issues. Consumers wonder if their purchases have made any difference. They start thinking if a company is strategically committed to corporate social responsibility, or it just uses cause-related marketing as a PR stunt.

To clear up consumers’ doubts about companies’ genuine intentions, companies should go beyond mission statements to provide personally relevant and tangible evidence that collectively, businesses and consumers are helping the world move forward.

Consumers can also take an active role in asking for feedbacks and searching for reports from companies on their charitable activities. This will help push the companies to pursue their stated social responsibility goals.

Sources:

http://www.warc.com.libproxy.usc.edu/News/default.aspx?isUS=True

Cui, Y., Trent, E. S., Sullivan, P. M., & Matiru, G. N. (2003). Cause-related marketing: How generation Y responds. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 31(6), 310-320. doi: 10.1108/09590550310476042

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2 Responses to Cause-Related Marketing: a Socially Responsible Company or a PR Stunt?

  1. allarson says:

    I think this is such an interesting question. I used to work for a cause-marketing firm, and it was something everyone in the office struggled with. At the end of the day, we were simultaneously working for amazing causes and addressing serious issues. But, we were also making a lot of corporations a great deal of money. I guess you kind of have to take a utilitarian stance in this particular field… People will buy consume things anyway. Why not make it possible to buy and consume what you want, AND happen to make a difference?

  2. shashali says:

    Personally I am very interested in cause marketing and corporate social responsibility issues. I used to work in the Corporate Affairs department in a multinational company, and I dealt with those issues for some time. During that time, as an insider, I also noticed that sadly, profit was still the ultimate force that drove the company to do cause marketing. It is like “passive” marketing, not active. However, now there are many models that can evaluate a company’s CSR efforts, for example GRI report and so on. Which means that, as the models are getting mature and consumers are becoming much more concerned about these issues, hopefully the pr stunt will gradually shift to real social responsibility of a company.