10 Commandments of Cause Marketing

Having escaped the bonds of traditional philanthropy, cause marketers set forth for the land of milk and honey. During their journey, a tribe among the cause marketers, called Komen, made a great golden [deep-fried] chicken and they worshiped it.

Everyone got really pissed. And they complained of the golden chicken.

To avoid ever having another stupid golden chicken, the cause marketers agreed to these 10 commandments of cause marketing.

#1 You shall know what cause marketing is. You can use my definition of cause marketing, but I point you to others. Be sure to read the comments to my post as well.

#2 You shall not confuse cause marketing with philanthropy, sponsorship or corporate social responsibility. While cause marketing certainly involves giving, philanthropy is not the primary goal. Marketing is. Sponsorship is very similar to cause marketing, but what distinguishes the two are the tactics they employ. I'm not totally sure what CSR is, but it's not cause marketing. What I do know is the former is a strategy that can employ cause marketing as a tactic. Calling cause marketing CSR is like calling a savings account an investment strategy.

#3 You shall choose your cause marketing partners carefully. As we learned from Komen and KFC, not all cause marketing partners are a good fit. Consider carefully with whom you partner or you just might do more harm than good. Take a cause marketer's Hippocratic Oath: "Do no harm." Don't harm your organization, the constituents you serve or your trusted partner.

#4 You shall create cause marketing programs that are win-win. The essence of cause marketing is mutual benefit. Just as nonprofits hope to increase visibility and raise money, for-profits aspire to enhance favorability with consumers and, ultimately, drive sales. If it's not win-win, it doesn't work. And it's not cause marketing.

#5 You shall act like a business person, with a conscience. Cause marketing exists at the intersection of philanthropy, business and marketing. You have to be innovative, results driven and customer-focused like a business person, but giving, human and humane like a philanthropist. A cause marketer must balance herself between value and values.

#6 You shall not limit the benefits of cause marketing to money. Cause marketing is a great way to build your brand, increase your visibility, promote your events, recruit participants for your cause walk, run or ride and identify prospects for major gifts. The list goes on and on.

#7 You shall make your cause marketing program transparent for all to see. Consumers aren't fools. When they support a cause marketing promotion, identify the cause that's getting the money, how much they will receive and a quick blurb on how they will use it. "For every (RED) beverage purchased at Starbucks, five cents will be donated to buy lifesaving medicines for those living with HIV in Africa." Don't hide your giving behind "A portion of the proceeds will be donated to organizations that fight breast cancer."

#8 You shall not expect results overnight. It takes time to build a successful cause marketing program. Most begin with an existing company or corporate leader that you've already worked with. Once you have the credibility of a couple successful programs behind you, it will be easier to create partnerships with new businesses. Training helps.

#9 You shall use social media strategically with cause marketing. Businesses are using social media more than ever. It's important you keep pace with new trends and new technologies to solidify cause marketings place in the corporate marketing mix. 

#10 You shall not over complicate cause marketing. The tactics behind cause marketing aren't brain surgery. KFC's ambitions to make the single largest donation to a breast cancer organization hinges on a simple percentage of sale program (i.e. 50 cents from every bucket).

As cause marketing guru Kurt Aschermann wrote on his own commandments a while back:

Cause-related marketing really isn’t that difficult. Just handle the relationship, deliver what you promise, and provide value to your partner. Best of all, cause-related marketing is fun and exciting. The sooner you master it, the sooner everyone will benefit from its incredible potential.

Unlike Moses, my 10 ten commandments aren't written in stone. Moses didn't have an iPhone so his weren't super easy to change. I'd love to hear what you would edit, add or delete.

Last week showed that cause marketers need some commandments by which they should conduct themselves and execute cause marketing promotions. No one wants to get burned by another golden chicken.

Komen's Cause Marketing Program Isn't "Finger-Lickin' Good"


I want to love Komen's new cause marketing partnership with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Buckets for the Cure. I really do.

  • The partnership is a cause marketer's dream with 5,000 stores participating. Cause marketing programs work best with lots of locations and lots of foot traffic. KFC has both.
  • 50 cents of every bucket ordered by restaurant operators (interesting how the donation isn't triggered by customers buying buckets but by operators ordering them) during the promotion period (now through May 30th) will go to Komen.
  • Komen is guaranteed a cool million. But KFC is hoping to raise over $8 million, the largest single donation to a breast cancer cause.
  • The program also has lots of extras too, like pink buckets you can't miss and lids with calls to action to get involved.

Bear with me while I collect myself...heading toward the light...too beautiful, too wonderful.... ZZZAAAPPPP!

That's Scotty Henderson prodding me back to reality with his eye-opening post on Buckets for the Cure.

Sigh. It was lovely while it lasted. But, alas, Buckets for the Cure is a horrible promotion full of cause dissonance that strips it of charity and authenticity.

The Komen/KFC debacle is a warning to all cause marketers that money should never cloud our values, our goals or our common sense. As Scotty points out, the conflict between the fight against breast cancer that Komen champions and the fat-infested food that KFC sells is simply irreconcilable.

It's like Deadliest Catch sponsoring Sea World or Smith & Wesson funding a rifle range at Columbine High School.

With 2400 calories and 160 grams of fat, a bucket of extra crispy KFC should include the wig you'll need for cancer treatments after eating this crap for years.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh on KFC. After all, they do offer a grilled version of their chicken bucket that has fewer calories.

Chicken shit.

The same week as the Buckets for a Cure began, KFC rolled out the Double Down. Bacon and cheese wrapped in two fried chicken breasts. 540 calories, 32 grams of fat and 1,380 milligrams of sodium.

Come on, KFC, are you really saying you care about the well being of women with this beast? Not true, retorts the Colonel. The target demo for the Double Down is men! So we should feel better knowing that the Double Down is a widow maker?

Perched on my soapbox, let me conclude.

Why did Komen do it? For the money, of course, which will never be enough to educate women and others on the perils of fat-farms like KFC. Komen knew they would ruffle a few feathers with this promotion, but soon all will be quiet in the hen house.

This is America where money can justify any crime, wash away any guilt, sanitize any reputation and rationalize any bad idea.

As a cause marketer who loves to win and close deals, I understand why Komen wanted to work with KFC. The lure of seven-figures. The promotion. It's intoxicating. You talk yourself into it. Would I have advocated a similar partnership within my organization? Maybe. But thankfully my colleagues and superiors have better judgement than I do. Komen, at least in this instance, has been blinded by its ambitions.

It's a story as old as humankind. It's when fool is most consumed by success that a fox steals in to the hen house.