Cause Marketing Fine Print - dummies

By Joe Waters, Joanna MacDonald

Cause marketing programs which use purchase-triggered donations are under a lot of scrutiny right now because consumers are rightfully questioning how much of their donation and to what cause their money is going. Consumers want to be assured that gifts are being funneled to a good cause and not misused.

Here are some guidelines for ensuring that your purchase-triggered donation programs are authentic, transparent, and legal:

  • Strive for authentic programs. The good of the cause needs to come before the success of the cause marketing program. Period. If you fail to put the cause first, at the very least you’ll sacrifice the favorability benefits of cause marketing and reduce the program to plain old marketing. Worst case, you’ll anger and alienate consumers who will hold you accountable for your inauthenticity.

  • Be transparent. Always be clear on how much of the money is going to the cause and which cause it’s going to. It’s unacceptable to slap a sticker on a cause product that says, “A portion of proceeds will go to animal rights organizations.”

    You need to be clear and specific, as Dannon is on its yogurt label, as shown in the following illustration. The company clearly states that 10 cents will be donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation every time someone logs on to the Cups of Hope website and enters the code found under their yogurt lid. Hold yourself to a higher ideal, or consumers will do it for you.

    According to the Cone 2010 Cause Evolution Study, only 45 percent of Americans believe companies are providing enough details about their cause marketing efforts.

    A Dannon yogurt cup branded with the Cups of Hope campaign.
    Credit: Photo taken by Paul Jones from Alden Keene & Associates.
  • Know the law. Laws vary by state and country, and an in-depth discussion on cause marketing law is beyond the scope of this book. But remember that most jurisdictions do have legal requirements pertaining to cause partnerships. Be sure to familiarize yourself with local regulations.

    Two good places to start your research are Cause Marketing Forum and Las Vegas attorney Ed Chansky. Cause Marketing Forum frequently has sessions on cause marketing law that are informative, specific, and enlightening. Attorney Ed Chansky is a frequent contributor to the forum and an expert on cause marketing law. He’s worth looking up on Google if you have more specific concerns or questions.

  • Expect to be held accountable. Weigh the worst-case scenario. What if a consumer or the attorney general’s office in your state questioned your cause marketing practices? Could you defend them? Or are you hoping they’ll never call?