Just a few years ago, cause marketing at its most basic level consisted of an organization partnering with a health or disease-related nonprofit, perhaps slapping some pink on a product in a one-off, seasonal campaign, and calling it a day.
But companies have moved beyond the support of banner causes, such as breast cancer or heart health, to align with issues that address business challenges.
"Organizations are not walking away from health or disease-related charities, but it is no longer a foregone decision that those are the default issues or charities of choice," explains Cone Communications’ EVP Alison DaSilva.
"A lot of people are talking about different business practices and issues on social channels, so consumers are learning a lot more," she adds. "It is no longer just about one activist who might be calling the company and asking questions; it is now a whole customer base."
That evolution is apparent in one of today’s biggest brands. In 2010, Diet Coke’s support of The Heart Truth campaign – which raises support for heart health research – received backlash from the public, bloggers, and consumer advocacy groups. They compared it to a cigarette manufacturer sponsoring a government anti-smoking effort.
Content and integration in action
The model of nonprofits having hundreds of partners for a once-a-year promotion no longer works, according to CancerCare’s director of cause marketing, Nancy Romano.
"It makes more sense to have 10 committed long-term partners with whom we are working, not just on consumer-facing initiatives, but also on employee engagement, marketing, media relations, and creating unique events that generate new stories for a minimum of three years," she says.
However, she doesn’t deny it can be hard to re-ject a $50,000 deal because there is no alignment.
Coca-Cola now approaches cause marketing by partnering with causes that are "true to the promise of its brand," says Javier Rodriguez Merino, the company’s senior director of global marketing for sustainability.
Coca-Cola is currently running a cause marketing campaign to provide safe water access to youth in China, with its first socially driven water brand Ice Dew Pure Joy. Every time an Ice Dew is purchased, a donation is made to the Clean Water Project Coke initiated in partnership with One Foundation China.
"It is not only about doing good, but doing it in a way that strengthens the brand," adds Rodriguez Merino. "We want these efforts to be relevant for our consumers, to help solve societal needs, and to be aligned."
With the space getting more cluttered, disease-related non-profits now have to evolve their pitching process when approaching potential partners for cause marketing efforts.
This year, CancerCare, a nonprofit in the oncology space, started moving away from talking about cancer in "packaged, canned" cause marketing campaigns, which have historically been the primary vehicle for corporate engagement, according to its director of cause marketing, Nancy Romano.
CancerCare is now looking at more creative approaches that align with a company’s business needs and goals. For instance, there is more focus on the psychosocial and physical wellness needs of cancer patients and their loved ones, rather than the disease itself.
As part of the organization’s partnership with pharmaceutical company Bayer, this fall the nonprofit is designing a customizable pillow comfort kit providing a free therapeutic tool to cancer patients who are having a hard time talking about it with their families and caregivers.
"Instead of having one of these banner campaigns, this campaign is unique to Bayer and it is about getting a conversation started on a topic area where they are essentially growing," says Romano. "Bayer is going from a focus on the past in cardiology to wanting to do more on the oncology side through its brands and drugs."
The majority of CancerCare’s cause marketing partnerships involve pharma companies, but the nonprofit is also pitching to insurance and healthcare businesses, as well as banks, using the importance of providing financial assistance to families who are suffering economically because of a cancer diagnosis, as a potential angle.
"These pitches highlight our ability to deliver an audience that will benefit from their products," says Romano.