A good time to give

Despite current economic troubles, consumers and corporations are investing time and money in various charities, according to the 2008 PRWeek/Barkley Public Relations Cause Survey.

Despite current economic troubles, consumers and corporations are investing time and money in various charities, according to the 2008 PRWeek/Barkley Public Relations Cause Survey.

For 12 years, General Mills has invested in “Box Tops for Education,” a cause marketing program that has raised $250 million since its inception. Part of this success is likely due to the fact that it is based on a simple, engaging, and effective idea.

Students, parents, and teachers buy selected products, send in the box tops, and receive 10 cents for each one sent in for their schools.

Not only does the program help the company permeate one of its target demographics – households with children – it also provides a way for consumers to feel they are giving back during a down economy.

That same sentiment is echoing across the corporate world, according to the results of this year's PRWeek/Barkley Public Relations Cause Survey, conducted by Millward Brown. Of 113 marketing and PR pros polled, 67% work for a company with a cause marketing program. More importantly, perhaps, 97.3% of those with a cause program view cause branding as a valid business strategy.

In addition, this year also marked the first time that female consumers exclusively were polled for this survey. The group of 500 was divided equally into two groups: women without children and mothers.

“Women always feel more strongly than men,” says Mike Swenson, president of Barkley PR, who adds that women will often purchase, pay more for, or even try a brand if it is attached to a cause program.

According to the survey, 45.8% of overall female consumers say they have bought a product that benefits a cause within the past year.

“Women are paying attention to what companies are doing in terms of cause, buying their products, paying more, and then recommending them to friends and family to do the same,” he says. “That's a powerful message to all brands, especially in a down economic time.”

Mom knows best
Both women without children (86.4%) and moms (85.6%) feel it's important for companies to support causes and charities, a staggering number when moms reportedly pour $1.7 billion into the economy each year, says Swenson.

Moms are typically involved with larger buying decisions, from new furniture to new cars. As such, Swenson notes, “[Moms are] more in tune with the economy and therefore... more in tune with what companies are doing, in terms of how companies are engaging them simply through the best prices, the best products, or a great cause effort.”

So, for a program like “Box Tops,” which garnered the highest level of familiarity for both moms and women without kids out of the 13 cause marketing programs listed on the survey, the effort gives mothers the associated cause value they want while also providing a way to ensure they keep buying General Mills products.

Of the mothers surveyed, 82% say they are “very familiar” or “familiar” with “Box Tops,” compared to the 58.8% of women without children who were “very familiar” or “familiar” with the program.

“Education is the number-one concern of moms, so it's a great thing for us to own,” says “Box Tops” director Brian Peters. “It's a great spend of our marketing dollars [and] a great differentiator for our brand.”

According to the survey, when a product or company supports a cause a mom believes in, she will buy the brand (66%), pay more for a brand (58%), and try a brand that she normally wouldn't (69.2%).

Yoplait's “Save Lids to Save Lives” program, which donates 10 cents to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for every yogurt lid that is mailed in, follows a similar model to “Box Tops for Education,” but reaches out to a much broader female demographic.

This program, also from General Mills, had the second highest recognition, with 53.6% of moms and 42% of women without children being “very familiar” or “familiar” with it.

Launched in 1998, “Save Lids” has  become one of the most recognized cause marketing efforts, as well as breast cancer-support campaigns, says Berit Morse, promotion marketing manager for Yoplait.

The idea of the effort, which targets women 35 to 54 years old, is that they can have a quick snack that helps them lose weight while donating to a cause, she adds. The program also perseveres during a down economy.

“It remains very relative during an economically challenging time,” Morse says. “They're buying a product that they're already buying.”
 
Different demographics
More recently, other companies have found causes less broad in scope, but more tailored to their brand and a target demographic.

Last November, Procter & Gamble brands Tampax and Always launched “Protecting Futures,” a joint effort to help teen girls in Africa who don't have, or can't afford, proper protection for the days they have their menstrual period.

The teens often miss school and fall behind in class, so the brands are helping improve facilities at schools in South Africa, Namibia, and Ethiopia, as well as distributing sanitary napkins and providing educational programs about health and puberty to female students.

To raise awareness about the issue in the US, P&G planned to dedicate one-quarter of the brands' TV and in-store marketing to the issue for the first year. While many cause marketing campaigns target women and moms, teen girls make up much of the target audience for the Tampax and Always marketing efforts, says Michelle Vaeth, program director for “Protecting Futures.”

The program “resonated with our teen consumers,” she notes. “We've seen the statistics, especially coming from the Gen-Y studies. Cause is extremely important to teens.”

Of the women without children who were surveyed, all 18 or older, 86.4% say it's important for companies to support causes and charities and 74.8% say the most important benefit for giving to a charity or participating in a cause-related program is feeling good about themselves.
 
Corporate perspective
With the US facing an economic down period, the view that it's important for businesses to continue their support for causes doesn't seem to be changing. Realizing that cause programs, especially those finely woven into the company's brand, shouldn't be the first casualty of cuts will be an important issue for companies in coming months. And many say that while PR efforts and ad budgets may be compromised, consumers will expect brands to stay loyal to the causes with which they are aligned.

“When we come out of the economic turmoil, [it will be] a greater engine for recovery,” says Carol Cone, founder and CEO of Cone, a Boston-based cause marketing firm.

She also notes that the emotional ties, either internal with staff or external with consumers, will become more pressing during this time.

“Consumers [feel] that they might not be able to give extra, but they still have expectations of companies to support social issues,” adds Cone.

According to the survey, 72% of companies with cause marketing programs said the economy will not impact those efforts; 17.3% said they have had to decrease their investment in cause marketing programs; and only 6.7% have had to put the programs on hold.

On the consumer side, while 23% of overall respondents say the economy hasn't affected their interaction with charities, 22.8% say they have not been as involved with charities due to the economy; and 25% have cut back on giving to all charities. In this environment, corporate cause marketing becomes even more important.

For companies that are considering withdrawing their programs or halting them, it would be a “double whammy,” says Swenson.

“Not only would they, perhaps, be suffering because of economic factors, but they would also be walking away from one of the ways in which they've connected with those consumers,” he adds. “And pulling back, or stopping that, would give a consumer a second red flag and a reason not to do business with that brand.”

Launching a cause marketing effort in such an economy could be tricky. Yet that didn't stop TripAdvisor from unveiling “More than Footprints,” on September 16. The effort encourages the site's users to vote on how the company should distribute $1 million among five travel-based charities – Conservation International, Doctors without Borders, National Geographic Society, The Nature Conservancy, and Save the Children. A pop-up box appears when logging on to the site, which has 25 million unique monthly visitors, allowing users to vote.

Michele Perry, VP of global communications of the Newton, MA-based company, says TripAdvisor's business is solid and growing, so the current economy was not a factor in the launch.

Engaging consumers is a tactic that 57.3% of the survey's corporate participants say is most important for a strong cause marketing program.
 
“It's becoming almost mandatory for companies to look at ways to give back,” says Swenson. “It's this convergence of individual philanthropy... combined with corporate philanthropy. And... it's good for business.”
 
Boosting morale
Internally, cause marketing efforts can play a major role for staff, who may seek the same reassurance and awareness that consumers do about a company's health and well-being.

“Employees are your ambassadors,” says Cone. “And when you have hundreds of thousands of employees... they want to know what their company stands for.”
 
The survey shows that 65.3% of corporate respondents say that better staff morale and retention is a benefit of cause marketing.

Aramark, a Philadelphia-based company that provides hospitals, schools, and businesses with food services, facility management, and apparel, decided to launch a company-wide cause program in February. Called the “Aramark Building Community,” it encourages the company's 250,000 employees to volunteer at local community centers.

It is partnering with City Year, a Boston-based youth-oriented service organization, for the program.

“These days, companies need to look at their resources,” says Bev Dribin, VP of community relations at Aramark, which will donate $5 million in cash grants, encourage employees to supply volunteer hours, and donate products for the next three years.

“We looked at the business opportunity,” she explains. “What better way to [tell] our story than [with] local employees?”

Not only does a staff-driven cause initiative support the community it serves, but it can also strengthen the company's overall brand image.

“It's an effective way... to show consumers that, regardless of the economic impact we're suffering as a company, we still know it's important to give back,” says Swenson. “In fact, we still know it's important to do good in the communities in which we do business.”
 
The PRWeek/Barkley Public Relations Cause Survey was conducted by PRWeek and Millward Brown. E-mail notification was sent to approximately 3,414 consumers and 2,470 marketing professionals. In addition, the survey link was sent to the PRWeek Networkers Facebook group.

A total of 500 female consumers (250 women with children and 250 women without children) and 113 marketing pros completed the survey online between September 2, 2008 and September 25, 2008. The results are statistically tested at a confidence level of 90%. Results aren't weighted.

Consumer respondents

Age/ethnic backgrounds
Of the 500 women, 17.8% were 18-29; 36% were 30-41; and 46.2% were 42-60. The
largest number was Caucasian with 87.4%; 6.4% were black; 3.6% were Asian; and 2.6% were Hispanic

Education
The respondents included 20.6% who were high school graduates; 32% with some college education; 28.8% college grads; and 10.4% with post-graduate degrees

Household income
One-third (33%) reported a household income before taxes of $25,000-$49,000; 22.6% reported $50,000-$74,000; and 19.6% reported under $25,000

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