Cause Marketing Promotes a Diversity of Sustainable Businesses


by Valerie Kosheleff

There is much more to cause marketing than that short pause at the grocery store when you say, “Yes,” when asked, “Would you like to donate $1 to save the whales?” Ever growing, cause marketing surrounds us, promoting responsible businesses and boosting nonprofits to financial stability as well as cause success.

Cause marketing, or cause-related marketing, is the partnership between for-profits and non-profits to collaboratively promote their respective products or services. Be it for health, education, poverty alleviation or environmentalism, cause marketing remains strong both as a secondary source of income for nonprofits as well as a key marketing strategy for global businesses, yet differs greatly from other regular business strategies.

Cause Marketing Today

Although the immediate goal is temporary – small-scale customer participation in a cause and positive affiliation with a business – its overall effects are salient across the globe with hundreds of campaigns in progress at any given time. Cause Marketing Forum, Inc predicts corporate cause-marketing sponsorship in 2012 will have reached a new high of $1.73 billion.

Cause marketing first appeared in the US in the 1970’s. Today, the six main types of cause marketing are:

1. Point-of-Sale – solicitation for a donation at a register by a person or signage.

2. Purchase or Action-Triggered Donation – a donation is made after the purchase of a product or service.

3. Licensing – a company uses a nonprofit’s logo on its products, often through a certification system.

4. Message Promotion – a company uses its resources to promote a cause-focused message in the media.

5. Employee Engagement – a company uses its own workforce for social good.

6. Digital Programs – a company uses technology such as the internet, social media, and smartphone apps.


Fulfilling a Demand

According to the Edelman 2010 GoodPurpose® Study, “86% of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business’ interests,” thus the opportunity is ripe for corporate social responsibility to operate in conjunction with organizations representing societies’ interests across the globe.  Today’s brands face a new frontier that combines monstrous global sustainability goals with the increasing demands of customers wanting more than just the consumption opulence of the recent past.

In a 2011 study by Cone Communication in partnership with Echo Research, 93% of global consumers reported that they “would buy a product associated with a cause” and “65% have already purchased a cause-related product in the past 12 months.” However, a recent poll from Cone Communications indicates that only about 16% of Americans planned to buy a cause-related gift this holiday season.

“Successful brands are purposeful brands with corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals and sustainability values”, points out Simon Mainwaring, author of the 2011 social-media marketing book, We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World.

For two years in a row, Havas Media has found that 70% of modern brands could disappear without pause from the majority of consumers, so current brands cannot afford to just carry on business as usual trying to work harder, faster, and advertise more. Rather, they now need to work with more transparency, creativity, and purpose. In summary, they need to be innovative on all levels of their supply chain, their product vision, product functionality and customer interactions. Cause marketing helps solve those challenges.

Evidence at Work

The world’s largest conservation organization, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), successfully combines marketing partnerships with its own business sustainability and its philanthropy. Through Coca-Cola’s “Arctic Home” campaign, the WWF raised $4.8 million for its “Last Ice Area” project to promote conservation of the Arctic habitat and its ice-dependent species such as polar bears. This cause-marketing campaign was a success perhaps because it engaged consumers through at least three types of cause-marketing programs: purchase-triggered and action-triggered donations, and a televised message promotion program.

With help from, a popular cause-promoting website and service, AT&T launched a program to promote safe driving by asking individuals and their friends to take the “Don’t Text and Drive” pledge, which could earn $2 or $5 from AT&T to be donated to the National Organizations of Youth Safety (NOYS) or Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). With 105,825 pledges on the site at the time of writing, AT&T has donated its cap of $50,000 to NOYS and another $50,000 to SAD, who became a recipient later in the campaign. Like this cause-marketing campaign, many use and other mainstream social media websites to act on, record and promote their causes on a global level.

Bryan Harding of The Nature Conservancy admits that, “corporate partnerships are key to achieving our mission,” and works through the WIN3 Model of Purposeful Partnerships in which the cause-marketing program supports the corporate partnership, offers tangible benefits for consumers, and drives the conservation outcomes. An example of this is the cause-marketing partnership with Macy’s entitled, “Give, Get and Save the Rainforest” that raised over $3 million for The Nature Conservancy’s work in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

Future Opportunities

Fortunately, brands of the 21st century have an opportunity to demonstrate their authentic engagement through social media promotion and partnerships. Through platforms ranging from modern social networks to traditional arts such as film, photography, music and writing, art can be a powerful vehicle to drive social change. Trevor Hall, President and CEO of Creative Visions Foundation (CVF), describes that one of the key missions of CVF is to, “Mobilize a revolution” for change through artistic media. CVF has reached over 30 million people since 1998 primarily through documentary-style, activism-inspiring videos.

Cause marketing and corporate social responsibility are examples of brand engagement and advocacy that promote productive behavior change. Fortunately, increasing sustainability practices is becoming the norm on the business front, yet new data indicates that higher expectations might prevent consumers from indulging business’ green efforts.

To be sure, when asked, “75% of consumers say they feel better about companies who support holiday causes,” but whether consumers remembered to use their purchasing power for good this holiday season remains to be seen. The 2012 holiday shopping season was expected to show a dramatic decrease in cause-related purchases. Down from 49% in 2010, a mere 16% of Americans planned to make cause-related holiday purchases this year, according to Cone Communication’s 2012 Holiday Trend Tracker. One explanation offered is that consumers want more information about the impact their purchase will have on a cause – a trend that will hopefully lead to ever more transparency for all.


Links to Statistics and Further Reading

Statistics Every Cause Marketer Should Know, Cause Marketing Forum.

2012 Cone Communications Holiday Trend Tracker, Cone Communications Public Relations and Marketing.

Cause Marketing Research and Reports, Cause Marketing Forum.

New Cause Marketing Programs Launched in 2012, Cause Marketing Forum.

Meaningful Brands, Havas Media.

How to Choose Your Cause Marketing Program, Cause Marketing For Dummies.


Dec 20, 2012