Cause Marketing Mailbag: April 2008

I'm writing an article on the role of social marketing and cause marketing in fighting HIV/AIDS.  I found your blog and am hoping you can give me some advice concerning cause marketing and HIV/AIDS. Kristine

Q.  I'm curious why a company would chose to support the cause of HIV/AIDS, as opposed to other causes.

A.  Kristine, on this front I can only speak from what I've seen and heard.  I've never done cause marketing for an AIDS-related charity before.  But I do work in a part of Boston where AIDS charities are very active and I, like most cause marketers, have followed the Product (RED) initiative with much interest.

That said, I think there are a variety of reasons why a company would support the cause of HIV/AIDS.  First, thankfully, the stigma has dissipated around AIDS and there isn't the taboo I remember from the 80's and early 90's.  In short, companies generally support mainstream causes and AIDS charities are now among them--especially ones that serve children with AIDS.  Second, a company may support the cause of AIDS because they want to tap their loyalists, who here in Boston are active, committed and united in their support for the cause and the partners that support them.  Third, the company may have a business or personal connection to the charity or one of its senior executives or a family member may have AIDS. 

Q.  To what extent have the cause-marketing partnerships between brands/companies and AIDS charities been successful?

A.  Product (RED) is the most visible gold standard of AIDS charities with over $60 million raised from cause marketing pacts.  Success has not come without controversy, however.  Read about the downside here and here.  There have been rewards and risks for all partners.

Q.  How are the results measured and evaluated?

A.  Nonprofits and for-profits engage in cause marketing because of the benefits to their organizations.  In my organization, which is a hospital, we measure our cause marketing programs on what they have raised in dollars, how much they have elevated our profile in the community and how they have created other opportunities to raise money (like the introduction to a major individual donor or a corporate foundation).  On the for-profit side, our partners evaluate their programs based on how well they drive sales, how popular they are with existing customers, how well they are received and executed by employees, how lucrative they are for the hospital, etc.  I suspect that AIDS charities and their corporate partners evaluate their programs in similar ways.

Q.  What are the pros and cons of engaging in a cause marketing partnership to support the AIDS cause?

A.  You can learn all about the benefits of cause marketing by perusing my blog.  I'm...ahem...pro-cause marketing.  But as far as the pros and cons of specifically doing a cause marketing partnership for an AIDS cause, there isn't much difference from from any other cause.  However, I do believe that because of Bono and the visibility of Product (RED), especially in major U.S. cities, AIDS charities are popular and trendy right now and the cause may resonate a bit more with retailers.  Hard to say.  The downside is that if those retailers have read more bad press about (RED) than good they may have a negative opinion about AIDS charities.  In the end, people base their decisions on a lot of reasons.  And it's for that reason you might want to peruse my section on cause sales.