Cause Marketing Cynicism is a Good Thing

Geoff Livingston has written a thoughtful post on the growing cynicism of cause marketing and how companies need to check their motives before they dive in.

As cause marketing continues to accelerate as a hot trend, many companies will enter the foray, not because their culture would make such a move intelligent, but because the marketers think it’s a good idea. . . . In reality, they will be committing the same mistake many marketers made when they attempted to brand their products green. The ensuing greenwashing backlash is still escalating as more and more companies try to enter the sustainable marketplace or differentiate from competitors with a dash of ecosense.

I agree with Geoff that we all, companies included, need to tread carefully. But I also believe this cynicism for cause marketing will lead to a better industry that is more responsible, accountable and successful.

Causewashing won't keep companies clean for long. Consumers are already getting smart to which campaigns are legit. I'm getting more feedback from partners that shoppers are asking questions about where the money goes, how much of their donation supports the cause and how the retailer is supporting the nonprofit beyond OPM (other people's money).

More companies will try cause marketing for the right reasons. They won't have a choice. The upside of doing the right thing is so important, so valuable and so expected by consumers that companies will have to do cause marketing right. This isn't traditional marketing, folks. This is marketing that impacts the greater good. That doesn't mean companies will always be successful or rewarded, but the goal will be to be more sincere, more authentic. They'll be no room for bad in good.

The appeal of cause marketing will broaden to other businesses. I'm really excited about this because cause marketing has been dominated for too long by the bigger companies and nonprofits. Not anymore. There's too much to be gained from cause marketing for everyone, and consumer cynicism will lead the charge for better programs and higher standards. The resulting success will make cause marketing the must have ingrediant in the marketing mix of all businesses, not just the biggest.

The biggest threat to the spread of cause marketing isn't cynicism but inertia. Geoff's right: "We need to elevate this conversation so that more companies and communicators engage in cause marketing with real socially responsible motives." But we also can't paralyze businesses, especially the smaller businesses that are just climbing aboard, with doubts that they can't be good cause marketers because they don't have the marketing know-how of  Seth Godin or a heart of gold like Mother Teresa.

What these businesses need is the resolve of Thomas Edison who tried some 700 times before he invented the working light bulb. They also need our encouragement that the road to cause marketing success is not a dimly lit and treacherous path. Or the light bulb that went on in their head about cause marketing to begin with will quickly go out.