Cause-Related Marketing: Targeting GenY: grab a cause and build PR - Corporations have beefed up their cause-marketing budgets over the past few years, but nobody has bothered to see if the future consumers of America are listening. Rebecca Flass finds ou

They don’t know what it’s like to live in a world without AIDS.

They don’t know what it’s like to live in a world without AIDS.

They don’t know what it’s like to live in a world without


Increased violence and drug use have transformed their schools

into high-security detention centers. It’s no wonder that

teenagers are becoming more concerned about how to improve the

world they live in - or that they recognize the contributions of

corporations who can help them.

The 1999 Cone/Roper Cause-Related Teen Survey is the first of its

kind to examine teens and causes, and one key finding is

providing corporations with an incentive to align themselves with

causes - the fact that teens respond.

The survey polled 600 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 and

found the following: Nine out of 10 (89%) teens value companies

that support causes they care about; 78% have purchased a product

that helped benefit a cause; 85% will continue to buy products

from companies that are supporting causes; and 80% will tell

their friends about a company’s commitment to a cause.

And when price and quality are equal, more than half (55%) of

teens surveyed said they would switch brands, and 64% said they

would switch retailers to one associated with a good cause.

Teens with major concerns

Even with many corporations embracing various causes, over

two-thirds of teens surveyed say current efforts are not enough.

Sixty-six percent say they’re concerned about violence in

schools, more than half are worried about drugs, 38% fear crime

and an equal number consider AIDS a major problem.

Those are pretty high numbers for an age group that’s generally

considered self-absorbed. ’The numbers were higher than we

expected,’ says CEO Carol Cone. ’If we’d done this survey with

Generation X, we would have seen a lot of apathy. But the

Internet gives teens a lot more access to information. Eight,

nine and 10-year-old kids know about the Nike sweat shops.’

And while this does seem to say a lot about how teens will be

making their buying decisions, John Paluszek, president of

Ketchum public affairs, offers some cautionary words. ’Who’s

gonna say that they don’t value companies that support causes,

especially young kids?’ asks Paluszek. ’There’s a core of

validity there, but it may be slightly overstated. But even if

10% feel that way, there isn’t a brand manager in this world that

wouldn’t kill for a 10% customer increase.’

Even so, Paluszek agrees that many corporations are keeping teens

in mind when developing cause-related marketing programs.

’Clients that market to teens consider it a tie-breaker,’ said

Paluszek. ’Cause-related marketing taps into the idealism and

altruism that exists at that age.’

But while teens say their dollar is more likely to go to a

company that supports a cause when price and quality are equal,

it is rare that both of these factors are exactly equal - which

may mean less of a boon to cause marketers than the numbers


Past Cone/Roper survey results - which examined the impact of

cause marketing on adults - yielded similar results; in a 1998

study, 83% of adults said they had a more positive image of

companies that support the causes they care about.

’It’s a trend we’re seeing more and more in society, of companies

doing good things for the community, their employees and

retirees,’ says Joan Gallagher, vice president of corporate

public affairs at Gillette. ’People are making their purchasing

decisions on good reputation.’

Jumping on the bandwagon

A number of corporations have recognized the impact that cause

marketing can have on their businesses, and have already

implemented programs. At the FUSE 1999 tour, headlined by the Goo

Goo Dolls, Levi’s has partnered with PAX, a non-profit

organization aimed at ending gun violence. At each concert stop,

Levi’s is helping to collect signatures - on a denim wall - for

PAX’s national youth petition, which will be presented to

President Clinton at the end of the year. The goal is to garner

one million signatures.

’We’ve had amazing feedback from market to market,’ says Carrie

Varoquiers, Levi’s cause marketing manager. ’There are swarms of

kids signing our denim wall in support for PAX. All the kids are

saying it’s great that someone is letting them be heard.’

Levi’s has also created safe-sex PSAs and sponsored the MTV

documentary ’Staying Alive,’ a program about the global AIDS

epidemic. ’Youths are very educated consumers,’ says Varoquiers.

’They’re voting with their dollar. This is a great way to wake

other companies up, to get the ball rolling and to listen to what

youths have to say.’

The survey results were also embraced by Gillette, which has been

active in helping to fight cancer in women and has made sure to

include teens in its initiatives. As part of a five-year plan

initiated in 1997, Gillette will award dollars 5 million to

support the Women’s Cancers Program of Dana-Farber/Partners

CancerCare. The money is going to establish the Gillette Centers

for Women’s Cancers, an adult oncology service. In May 1999, the

company introduced the Gillette Women’s Cancer Connection to help

families and friends with the issues brought on by cancer.

Through a partnership grant, Gillette is also helping Kids

Konnected, a national nonprofit organization, to offer support

for children who have a parent with cancer.

’These findings help reinforce that we have the right message

with Cancer Connection,’ says Gallagher. ’We’re very fortunate in

being able to embrace a cause that resonates with our employees

and the outside world. The last thing we want is to be accused of

embracing a cause that doesn’t have meaning for us.’

Self-serving but beneficial

And even if a company pursues cause marketing strictly for the PR

value it brings, that’s not entirely bad, says one expert. Dr. Ed

Maibach, director of social marketing for Porter Novelli, argues

that companies whose motives are self-serving shouldn’t be

criticized for their cause initiatives.

’A company is thought about as more favorable if, in making good

on their motivation for having a good reputation, they benefit a

social issue and the world is left a better place,’ says Maibach.

’An organization’s reasons may be self-serving, but that’s not to

say that they’re not making a difference through their


While the survey results may not be a reason for corporations

with cause initiatives to switch gears and throw all their money

at the teen market, it does indicate that Generation Y is as

concerned as adults are about causes.

And it gives those that haven’t been involved in cause marketing

something to consider.

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