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Is Slick What Makes Great Brands Tick?

Branding is key for long-term success in cause marketing. But what if your branding efforts go too far? Cause branding that is over the top or too slick won’t stick. Most people have radar for branding that’s gone too far or doesn’t match the brand.

Of course, what’s slick really lies in the eyes of the beholder. What’s appropriate for a teenager may turn off a retiree.

The Pepsi Refresh Project with its online submission of worthy projects and vote-getting to choose winners strikes home with a younger digital audience interested in engagement and power. Conversely, a retiree may prefer a more traditional form of giving, which a teen would find like . . . duh . . . dumb.

Komen’s Bucket for the Cure program with Kentucky Fried Chicken went too far for many consumers and was widely criticized. But a hamburger and onion-scented candle sold by White Castle with proceeds going to Autism Speaks was a big hit with consumers, with all 10,000 candles selling in less than 48 hours.

White Castle’s hamburger and onion-scented candle was a hit with customers and raised $50,000
White Castle’s hamburger and onion-scented candle was a hit with customers and raised $50,000 for Autism Speaks.

Here’s how White Castle and Autism Speaks kept the spark in their program without igniting the controversy Buckets for the Cure got:

  • Think different. Instead of raising money for Autism Speaks with their fast-food menu, which may have led to the same type of criticism KFC got, White Castle chose a nonfood item, a candle, as the centerpiece of its cause marketing promotion.

  • Focus on the social good. Critics complained that Buckets for the Cure encouraged consumers to eat unhealthy food that could lead to obesity and illness — not to mention the KFC advertising efforts to bring pink supporters into the chicken coop with their fried and fatty Double Down sandwich. Conversely, the White Castle promotion was directed at loyalists who loved the smell of White Castle’s onion-covered hamburgers.

    White Castle was simply giving its most loyal customers a chance to support a good cause without asking them to eat another hamburger — or even go into a restaurant, as most sales happened at its online store.

  • Keep things taut. Great marketing, and great cause marketing in particular, has a certain tension to it. When cause marketing is provocative without being disingenuous, people remember it more, and it’s more effective. While Buckets for a Cure was a much bigger cause marketing campaign, it ultimately had a negative impact for KFC and Komen.

    Kentucky Fried Chicken raised over $4M for Komen for the Cure with its Buckets for the Cure. But ma
    Kentucky Fried Chicken raised over $4M for Komen for the Cure with its Buckets for the Cure. But many consumers felt that KFC and Komen put money and fried chicken before breast cancer awareness.

While many don’t enjoy the smell of a hamburger and onion-scented candle, White Castle’s effort had one scent everyone could all enjoy: the sweet smell of cause marketing success.

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