The Role of Emotion in Cause Marketing

You can use all the facts, figures and statistics you want, but unless you make an emotional connection with people they usually won't give. If by chance they do, it will be go-away money. You'll be as disappointed to receive it as they are reluctant to give it.

Emotion is important to all types of fundraising, including cause marketing. If a cashier asks a shopper to make a donation to UNICEF's Tap Project because "1 in 10 watersheds in this country are polluted", the shopper will shrug and move on. But if the cashier asks for a gift to ensure our "our children have clean, safe tap water to drink" more shoppers will give.

Today, at Marshall's a cashier held up a sneaker-shaped pinup and asked me to donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I gave, as I always do, but I'm sure the cashier would get a better response from shoppers if she led with an ask that including a reference to the children JDRF helps. "You probably know someone with diabetes. I know I do. We're raising money today for children with the disease. Can we count on your support?"

Still, asking for shoppers to support Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation isn't a bad cause marketing pitch.

Large nonprofit can generally rely on their household names at the register because they've been dipped in emotion (e. g. Komen for the Cure [breast cancer], Salvation Army [kettle bells for the poor and disaster relief], children's hospitals [sick children], and locally here in Boston, The Jimmy Fund [kids with cancer]). Like a favorite dessert at a local bakery, certain nonprofit brands trigger feelings as soon as we see, hear or come into contact with them.

But most nonprofits have poor name and brand recognition. Instead of their names they should lead with their strongest emotional message. Children instead of adults. Puppies instead of animals. Community gardens instead of farms. Play your strongest card first. Of course, nonprofits worry that...

Leaving their name out will hurt their cause. Is promoting a name that no one knows better? When I worked at a Boston hospital with low brand awareness we led with emotion. "Would you like to donate a dollar to help a poor, sick child?" If moved, shoppers got a takeaway about our organization so they could connect the cause with a name. Tools like QR codes will allow nonprofits to connect with shoppers that would otherwise say "What did I just give to?"

Focusing on one emotional issue is lying and damaging to their cause. When I suggest an emotional lead for a cause marketing promotion many nonprofits respond that it doesn't capture the breadth of their mission (e. g. Asking a local animal group to focus on puppies when they help all kinds of animals from cats to birds to reptiles). Your emotional lead is like a vanguard - your best forces that will lead your nonprofit forward. Slicing through consumer apathy and indecision, it turns the former into interest and latter into resolve. A great example of spearheading with emotion is The Jimmy Fund, the fundraising arm of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. While the mission of The Jimmy Fund is to raise money to fight adult and pediatric cancers, their cause marketing campaigns lead with emotion: sick kids with cancer.

Choosing a truly sad appeal will turn shoppers off. Think again. Jeff Brooks recently shared research that showed that sad faces are better than happy faces.

People are more sympathetic and give more to a charity when the victim portrayed on the advertisement expressed sadness than when a victim expressed happiness or neutral emotion.... the authors illustrate when and how a sad expression enhances sympathy and giving. Taken together, the findings imply the importance of subtle emotional cues that sway sympathy and giving.

Research is great, but as Jeff explains, experienced fundraisers have been saying this for years: sad faces get more of a response.

While nonprofits need to balance emotion with rational arguments, and avoid appeals that are too severe or prolonged, emotion is a critical element for cause marketing success.

Ignore emotion at your own peril. Without it, consumer just might leave your cause at the register with the rest of the things they didn't buy.

Interested in other ways you can leverage emotional appeals in cause marketing promotions? Check out pages 102, 117-118, 294-295 in Cause Marketing for Dummies, which is available at Amazon.