Don't Confuse Cause Marketing with Philanthropy, Sponsorship, or Social Responsibility

Cause marketing’s first goal is marketing for both the company and the cause. While philanthropy is an aim of cause marketing, philanthropy is not its primary objective. Cause marketing and sponsorship share a common thread: they’re both win-win.

Where they diverge is in the level of commitment between the partners and the tactics that make cause marketing unique. While sponsorship is generally a simple exchange of money for a promotional opportunity, cause marketing is a deep partnership.

In addition, social responsibility and corporate social responsibility (CSR) seem to be on everyone’s tongues these days. The problem is that they use these words interchangeably with cause marketing, which isn’t accurate.

CSR is an organization's commitment to operating in a way that is socially responsible. Cause marketing may be a reflection of the larger CSR strategy, but this is not always the case. For most organizations, cause marketing is a single tile in the mosaic that is their overall CSR strategy.

Starbucks’ Shared Planet is its corporate commitment to do business in ways that are good for people and the planet (its CSR statement). Starbucks’ cause marketing campaigns in support of Product (RED) reflect this overall corporate commitment but are just a small piece of a much larger CSR program.

Consider the Starbucks coffee cup in the following illustration that’s supporting (RED). Starbucks’ support (RED) for red reflects its corporate social responsibility, its ethics, and its values. The portion of sales promotion it created to raise the money to put deeds to words is cause marketing. If CSR is the blueprint for change, cause branding is the wood that will be used to build it, and cause marketing is the hammer.

Social responsibility, CSR, and cause marketing share a bond, but they’re not the same thing.

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