Is Cause Marketing Really a Disaster After Disasters?

No sooner had the ground stopped shaking in Japan last week and people were already shaking their fists calling for a moratorium on cause marketing. It happens after every disaster (the last being after the earthquake in Haiti). I'm not saying that these calls for pause weren't uncalled for. I'm just wondering whether cause marketing is really a disaster after disasters, or are people being overly sensitive or maybe even hurting they want to help.

Let's begin with the definition of cause marketing. You might be familiar with mine: Cause marketing is a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit. The nonprofit "profits" from the visibility and dollars raised while the for-profit benefits from increased consumer favorability which may drive sales.

I agree with Mom101 that post-disaster is no time for marketing ploys. Of course, this begs the question if there is ever a time for opportunism when it comes to cause marketing and raising money to support good causes.

Next, you have to look at just what type of cause marketing a company might use to help quake victims. Is there one type that might be better than another?

Point of Sale - A chain mobilizes its storefronts to ask customers to donate to agencies that are helping quake victims. 100% of the money goes right to these nonprofits; the company is merely a pass through. The company may even choose to match a portion or all of the donations. It's hard to argue against this type of cause marketing.

Purchase Triggered Donations - You designate a product or service from which up to 100% is donated to quake relief. I could see consumers frowning on this one, especially if it was less than 100%. If Starbucks said they were donating all the money they made in their U. S.  stores from 8 to 9am on one weekday, would you think less of them? Would you complain that they should just donate the money instead of using cause marketing, even if it heightened the need to give to quake victims?

Message Promotion - What if Target took a piece of its advertising budget and devoted it to ads telling consumers how they could support the Red Cross' efforts in Japan. Is there no place for that type of cause marketing as well? This extends to digital cause marketing too. What if Toyota put its Facebook page to work promoting the Japan Earthquake page so people could stay informed and engaged.

Employees Engagement - Building off of Help Attack! which I talked about last week, aircraft maker Boeing could set aside one million dollars for the Red Cross so employees that sign up for the social giving service can tweet and Facebook for the victims.

I think there are some good ways that cause marketing could be helpful immediately after disasters. I also don't think people are aware of all the different ways cause marketing could aid a relief effort.

Of course, cause marketing needs to be done tactfully, senstively in light of the circumstances. An added bonus might be that while plenty of money will naturally pour into relief agencies in the immediate days following a disaster, cause marketing might just be the engine that sustains the momentum of giving.

Whether it's after a disaster or in the ongoing fight against cancer, cause marketing should never be viewed as having "strings attached." Why can't it be a lifeline instead?

What do you think?