The Gap has recently been critically reviewed for its cause-related marketing efforts for The Gap (Product) Red campaign.
As longtime social and cause-related marketing consultants, we pose a question to corporate America, PR pros, and the press: If The Gap and its star endorsers didn't step up, who would?
Aside from the publicized $100 million marketing campaign it took to implement the (Product) Red campaign, did The Gap make a difference contributing to a socially meaningful issue beyond the dollars? Do many companies have an SVP of social responsibility? The Gap does. Imagine the difficulty counseling a corporation to partner with a charity if every move is scrutinized from the viewpoint of the lowest common denominator: money.
Thanks to The Gap (Product) Red efforts and others, more than $25 million has been raised to support the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria - and that's in addition to raising social consciousness.
The Gap has stated that "50% of the sales of (Product) Red products" are being directed to the cause. Many cause campaigns have a percentage or specific dollar amount per item for the cause, usually with a cap. The Gap's effort was open-ended and probably saw incremental sales increases and deeper brand loyalty. There may be lessons learned here, but does the marketing budget spent in exchange for the funds and awareness raised really matter?
The bottom line is not the noise on the ROI of the marketing spends, but whether corporations can make a difference and still support the bottom line. Ford and Nike have driven award-winning campaigns supporting AIDS and cancer initiatives. Are we scrutinizing how much money they spent on marketing? No, it's how they moved the needle. From a cause perspective, they have been perceived as good corporate citizens.
Are we so jaded that corporations doing "good" should be held to higher standards just because they choose to implement campaigns with advertising and celebrities? Should we not go to a U2 concert or a Steven Spielberg movie?
We've managed numerous corporate and nonprofit relationships, and educated companies on the importance of cause-related marketing in the broadest business context. Yet, many still pursue campaigns for three simple reasons: sales, traffic, and branding.
By selecting a "charity du jour" or "hottest issue," some companies are choosing nonprofit partners merely to support one-off promotions or to add a warm glow to a short-term marketing initiative. Social responsibility should be the beginning of any cause initiative, not the sales end.
These relationships need to come from a company's heart and be authentic while working long term - ultimately, making social change. Building an infrastructure and measurement for defining success should follow. If The Gap was just concerned about the short-term bottom line, would its investment have been so large? We don't think so.
Cause marketing is a single tool in the marketing toolbox. But programs must be culturally sound and operate over the long term, or they will fail. Demonstrate best practices in social responsibility, and structure for five, 10, or 15 years down the road. When entering a relationship - like The Gap - use all the corporate assets you can.
Do it because it's the right thing to do.
Scott Pansky is GM and co-founder of Allison & Partners.