I think they can, but it needs to be done appropriately and with sensitivity. As we learned in my post What is Cause Marketing? cause marketing isn't philanthropy first, it's marketing. And the situation in Haiti requires philanthropy first. And any company that tries to swap that with marketing will be duly punished by consumers.
But just because the recipe calls for a pound of philanthropy doesn't mean there isn't room for a teaspoon of cause-related marketing.
Here's how it can be added to the mix without ruining the batter.
A lot of companies have already struck the right chord with philanthropy by donating millions to the Haiti earthquake victims. Let's use Startbucks as the example, which has donated $1M to the American Red Cross.
Additionally, some companies, like Starbucks, have carved out areas within their stores where customers can make donations to Haiti.
But how could these companies add cause marketing?
Again, as you know from my earlier post, I view cause marketing in three tactical ways: point-of-sale, percentage-of-sale, licensing.
For Haiti, I think point-of-sale might be perceived as too aggressive and opportunistic. Conversely, licensing is a tactic that couldn't be rolled out fast enough to meet the urgent needs of the victims.
Neither will work to help Haiti or the favorability of the company that executes the program.
However, I think percentage-of-sale could work. The Starbucks/Product RED partnership is a model. During the month of December, Starbucks donated five cents for every coffee sold to fight AIDS in Africa. The same could be done for Haiti at Starbucks and at other retailers.
But here's what every consumer would need to know. Regardless of whether you buy the product or not, the company would donate X dollars, a generous minimum donation, to Haiti. A donation that could go up significantly with the small purchasing choices customers make every day.
I like this option because it's built off of two solid layers of philanthropy, and a good portion of the percentage-of-sale donation comes from the company, not from the consumer's purchase. Nevertheless, the program gives the consumer a chance to literally register their support for Haiti and to note the company's efforts.
I read this post to my wife and she said my idea still sounds like a marketing ploy. Maybe cause marketing has no place in helping Haiti.
What do you think?