Raising Cause Marketing

"Lazarus! Come Forth!"

Attending Cause Marketing Forum's annual conference, which happened last week in Chicago, is always a big rush for me because I get to see lot of friends from the field I don't normally get to see.

It's also a great recharge because it gets me pumped for the cause marketing work that obviously lies ahead.

But this year was a little different. On the eve of the Cause Marketing Forum Conference, AdAge published The Day Cause Marketing Died by my friend Mike Swenson, CMO at Barkley in Kansas City.

Like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol, Mike didn't paint a pretty picture of cause marketing's future if we continued our wicked ways.

It wasn't a natural death. It was murder.... From the moment consumers awoke each day until they fell asleep at night, they were inundated with opportunities to give back every time they made a purchase. In between, regardless of what store they were in, point-of-purchase shelf talkers virtually screamed at consumers every 10 feet to buy this or that product and help this or that cause. Consumers were under siege at every checkout lane of every store they shopped to give a dollar for this or a dollar for that.

One talk I was looking forward to at CMF10 was Ed Chansky's Cause Marketing Legal Issues. Now I know it was like looking forward to a root canal. I was surprised by how many things the law says you can't do in a cause marketing program. Simple things, like a nonprofit asking its supporters to shop at a retailer that's supporting the cause is a no-no. Huh? What do you mean you can't do that, Ed?

My head spinning from Ed's presenation, I stumbled into Mike Lawrence's Transparency: Cause Marketing's Dirty Little Secret. The name alone had me reaching for a Xanax. Mike's point was that when consumers aren't confused by corporate cause marketing efforts they're pretty sure companies aren't giving them enough details about their programs. Not surprisingly, this isn't helping Joe and Jane Consumer's perception of cause marketing one bit.

Mike Swenson had me feeling that we were shelling shoppers with inauthentic cause marketing campaigns. Ed Chansky had me wondering if most cause marketing was "legally questionable". Mike Lawrence left me thinking that even if I did things right I was still fighting a losing battle against waning public opinion.

Oy. Any positions open in major gifts?

Each one of these can deliver a potential death blow to cause marketing.

To make sure the day would never come that cause marketing would take to its deathbed gasping for breath, I took a Scrooge-like oath to keep what I learned from these three spirits not just after CMF, but all year long. This is what I plan to do.

Strive for authentic programs. The cause needs to come before the promotion. This is harder than it seems as it often is the promotion that sells the program, not the cause (especially for smaller charities like mine). But Mike is right on this count. If you don't put the cause first, cause marketing is just plain marketing and you're on the road to irrelevance.

Know the law. I know the basics of cause marketing law, but there's still a lot to learn and Ed Chansky is a great resource. Before I left CMF10 he gave me a great packet of info on cause marketing law that he said he'd send electronically to anyone who gave him his business card that day. I think he would send it to you too if you asked him. I plan to learn everything I can about cause marketing legal issues. It's in my best interest, and the interest of my partners, that we know and follow the law.

Continue to be transparent. Whatever cause marketing program my nonprofit executes, we always try to be clear on where the money is going so there's no confusion for the consumer. On those few occasions when we've done percentage-of-sale programs, we've also tried to be transparent on the breakdown of funds. Like Mike Lawrence, I see this as a critical issue for cause marketers. You can't just slap a "portion of proceeds" sticker on a product or pinup and expect shoppers to fork over their money anymore. We need to either hold ourselves to a higher ideal, or someone else will it for us.

Like Mike Swenson, Ed Chansky and Mike Lawrence, I want cause marketing to be around for a long, long time. Authenticity, legitimacy and transparency may be the closest thing cause marketers have to a trinity. Amen.