Active vs. Passive Cause Marketing

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As a fan of pinup programs, especially for small nonprofits, I'm frequently asked how important the "ask" is at the register. The ask happens when you're checking out and and cashier says, "Would you like to donate a dollar to help _________?" To understand why the ask is so important to the success of a pinup program, you needn't look any further than the stores you visit everyday.

"Do you need batteries for that?"

"Would you like to try Via, our new instant coffee?"

"Would you like to supersize your meal?"

They ask because when they do you usually say yes and buy more. A lot more.

The same is true of pinups. The more you ask people to give a buck or two the more people will. I call this active cause marketing (ACM).

But ACM isn't for everyone. Some retailers see it as pestering the customer. An example here in eastern Massachusetts, and I limit it to my area because I really don't know what they do in other parts of the country, is Whole Foods. They practice what I call passive cause marketing (PCM). And for all the shortcomings of PCM, Whole Food does it pretty darn well.

They put the gift request in a can't-miss spot near the register where customers can decide for themselves if they want to contribute.

I ran across the Autism Special Education Center pinup program at my local Whole Foods in West Newton, Massachusetts. The pitch was in a great location. Right in my line of sight on the credit card machine where I swiped my card. All I had to do was pick the card for either the $2 or $5 donation and give it to the cashier who scanned it just like any other item.

While this approach won't raise as much money as an active pinup program, it's a hundred times better than most passive cause marketing programs I see. Usually the donation request is far beyond passive; it's hidden behind the gum in aisle three, or worse.

But let's not forget how much the type of customer that shops at Whole Foods contributes to the success of this PCM program. Their average shopper is affluent, educated and sophisticated (so far it hasn't rubbed off on me), which makes them more open and progressive about supporting causes they care about.

While this program was for autism, other PCM programs I've seen at the register are for food pantries, homeless shelters and especially "green" causes. Again, right in line with the interests and concerns of their yuppie shoppers.

I've never had success with passive cause marketing programs, but that's not because they didn't work. I didn't set realistic expectations for myself and was disappointed when they didn't raise as much money as ACMs. Now I know better.

To date, I also haven't worked with retailers with the kind of customers that are more responsive to PCM programs. I'll have to keep looking because Whole Foods in Massachusetts has already said no to doing a PCM for my cause.

Fortunately for me, there are a lot of other places to shop.