Reader Appeal: Help Us Find Innovative Cause Marketing

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How do cause marketers engage consumers in a cluttered landscape of media options and messages?

The question would be difficult enough without the bad press about hard sell techniques and misadministration which has hit a charities sector estimated to number at least 160,000 entities in the UK alone.

It also applies to businesses aiming to promote societal good, and which perhaps have more experience than charities of consumer distrust.

The IPA, which through its Effectiveness Awards and ongoing learnings programme is dedicated to collating the best evidence of what works across communications, will later this year award a new prize for the communication initiative which best delivers both quantifiable commercial benefits and positive societal change.

Before that winner is announced, however, here are five innovative approaches used by organisations to change consumer attitudes or behaviour for good causes.

This list could be much longer. Help us find more innovative cause marketing case studies. We pledge to provide a safe home for them at the IPA.

Consider this our cause.

1. Harnessing the mobile habit: Mexican Red Cross/SOS

Few mobile-based ideas seem as obvious in retrospect as the SOS/SMS service developed by the Mexican Red Cross and Grey Mexico. This feature aimed to reduce the estimated 5 per cent of people who die on emergency callouts because response teams do not have access to patients’ details. This initiative enables users to enter medical information into a database, and it will be automatically sent to the user’s phone when ‘S-O-S’ is typed in from the phone’s emergency screen. It works even if the patient is unconscious and/or the phone is on auto-lock.

We could cite too the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust initiative, developed with Wunderman and supported by Vision Express, which encourages parents to photograph children’s eyes via phones as an early indicator of the deadly condition, retinoblastoma. (Children’s pupils affected with the disease show up white in flash photography).

Or the Immigrant Council of Ireland’s Swiping out Sex Trafficking (by eightytwenty agency) in which fake Tindr profiles of vulnerable young women bring home the realities of sex trafficking.

In each case, the cause marketer used the ubiquity of mobile devices and existing behaviours to encourage new habits or prompt reflections on existing ones.

2. Brands as enablers of good: Uber/Goodwill Industries

In other instances, brands – mostly tech-driven brands – are the direct facilitators of socially positive outcomes via the application of technology or science.

In instances such as IBM/Whirlpool’s collaboration on household appliances, one fruit of which is a  proposed smart washing machine that can make online donations to environmental charities every time it is used, it isn’t clear how pressing a consumer need is being met.

By contrast, Uber’s Spring Clean partnership with the charity network, Goodwill®, removes one of the universal barriers holding people back from donating goods for sale by charities.

The programme provides free pick-up and drop-off of goods to charity outlets by Uber drivers (albeit only a specific day and in limited number of cities so far) using Uber’s trademark app for locating available nearby taxi drivers.

3. Satirical fundraisingThe Equal Payback Project

Entertainment and fund-raising have long gone hand in hand. (For an application of this approach to videogames, see Activision’s Call of Duty Endowment.)

A satirical twist on the crowd funding via entertainment idea can be found in The Equal Payback Project, by Droga 5 for the National Women’s Law Centre.

Calculating that if US men and women were paid equally, US women would collectively gain $30 trillion, the campaign’s website offered to distribute this sum to women, provided it could raise it by online crowdfunding.

It also featured a film clip of comedienne Sarah Silverman – arguing it would be quicker for her to become a man and deliberating over her preferred prosthetic penis option – which went viral. Although the $30 trillion target was of course not met, donations raised as a result of the publicity went to the National Women’s Law Centre.

4. Causes as digital storytellers: Sports Matter/DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation

Few marketing organisations have made storytelling quite as central to their communications as the US sports retailer, DICK’S Sporting Goods.

In 2014 the company announced a $25m commitment to promote awareness and raise funds for under-funded amateur youth sports teams. To date, the initiative has produced an Emmy Award-winning sports documentary, and a successful crowdfunding programme,, in which teams tell their stories to raise public donations, which are then matched by the DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation. In its first year, the programme raised $2m from 550,000 donors, with matched funding from the Foundation.

Related examples of story-led cause campaigns include Google’s climate change effort, Ours to lose, and Conagra Foods’ invitation to Tell-a–Thon as part of its #Hungerfree Summer campaign.

5. Re-Packaging the message: Honey Nut #Bringbackthebees

Arguably the most daring marketers are not those who adopt new platforms or technologies but anyone prepared to play with a successful brand’s DNA such as its visual look and packaging in the name of a cause.

As pointed out by, examples of those who have done so include Coca-Cola (with its ‘Labels are for cans, not people’ initiative), and Unilever’s Ben and Jerry, (which produced a ‘Save Our Swirled’ ice-cream for the Paris Climate Change summit).

Perhaps the most cohesive instance of this approach, though, is the #Bringbackthebees initiative from the General Mills-owned cereal, Honey Nut Cheerios, in Canada.

Working with its agency Cossette, it encouraged Canadians to help foster bees by providing free seed packs to increase the planting of wild flowers, and published a range of content explaining the vital role played by bees in the global food chain.

But most noticeably, it temporarily removed its distinctive bee brand icon from all its packaging to convey the threat of the collapse of bee populations.

The IPA will also be hosting an event ‘Advertising and Conscious Capitalism’ on 11 May which will explore how brands can create profit with purpose.

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