The Cure Won't Have a Ribbon

Cause marketing won't cure cancer. Or end hunger. Or stop domestic violence. Or usher in world peace. Or save puppies from the pound. I know this because cause marketing is blessed and cursed by having what Malcolm Gladwell calls "weak ties."

[I immediately connected with Gladwell's concept of weak ties when I read The Tipping Point years ago. Like Roger Horchow in the book, I prefer friendly yet casual social connections. It's no surprise I love cause marketing and social media.]

Here's how Gladwell recently described weak ties in relation to social media in The New Yorker.

The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand ‘friends’ on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

The ties surrounding cause marketing are equally weak. You check-in at a billboard for a cause and a company makes a donation. You donate a buck at the register to feed homeless families (or was it homeless dogs?). You buy a pair of sneakers and you may or may not know that a percentage supports breast cancer research.

You've read this blog enough to know that cause marketing has its merits and raises millions for causes. But it will never be the first, third or twentieth reason people cite as why we cured AIDS, stopped global warming or left no child behind in the classroom.

Why? For the same reason social media will never bring peace to the Middle East, unite Africa or save the oceans. Ultimately, it takes bands of people (offline, not shopping), organized for change, to accomplish these great tasks. Not wall updates, tweets, posts and check-ins. And certainly not pinups, cause products and promotions.

One of my favorite social media experts, Jason Falls, explains:

Social media [and cause marketing] are communications channels, not power structures. The hierarchy of order that produced the civil rights movement may have been helped by social media, but it would have (and did) happen without it, too.... Sure, Facebook messages may be the carrier pigeons, but carrier pigeons don’t win wars.

And pink ribbons won't cure cancer.