Good is the New Black. Get dressed.

Having been retained by a company that’s making it easier for people to “do good”, The Genius has spent much time in recent months pondering the value and efficacy of cause marketing.

For the 3 of you who haven’t yet heard of cause marketing, allow me to share the official Wikipedia definition:

“Cause marketing or cause-related marketing refers to a type of marketing involving the cooperative efforts of a “for profit” business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit. “

For the rest of you who DO know what cause marketing is, but aren’t yet investing in it… SHAME ON YOU! Not only are you guilty of being a corporate greed-monger, a.k.a. The Man, but you are also missing a GINORMOUS opportunity!

[side note: I think it’s extremely interesting that SpellCheck did not flinch when I typed the word “ginormous”—however, typing “SpellCheck” immediately brought out the little red squiggle. Truly bizarre.]

How ginormous am I talking here? Consider these numbers:

  • Somewhere between 83% & 91% of Americans (in other words, just about everyone!) say that companies have a responsibility to help support causes.
  • 92% have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause they care about.
  • 87% are likely to switch from one product to another (price and quality being equal) if the other product is associated with a good cause
  • 72% of Americans have purchased a particular brand because they know that brand supports a cause they believe in.

(All of the above data was gleaned from either the 2007 Cone Cause Survey Report or the 2007 PR Week Cause Survey.)

Those of you who shrugged those numbers off like a bad hangover, consider this: Americans are equally eager to PUNISH corporate villains as they are to reward corporate saints:

  • 85% would consider switching to another company’s products or services because of a company’s negative corporate responsibility practices.
  • 79% would refuse to invest in a company’s stock.
  • 77% would refuse to work at a company.
  • 66% would boycott a company’s products or services.


In addition to all of this obvious and significant sentiment in favor of socially responsible businesses, there’s also a substantial bit of evidence that “doing well by doing good” is really good for employee morale, employee retention, investor relations… and your complexion.

Ok, no hard evidence on the ‘complexion’ part, but the rest is verifiably true.

And if you and your company are not getting it—or more importantly, aren’t doing something about it—you’re buffoons!!!!

Because in spite of the fact that our great nation managed to elect a guy who can’t tell a good idea from belly button lint (not once, but TWICE, I might add!), and refers to the World Wide Web as “The Internets” (OY!)… sorry, I digress… In spite of all this idiocy, We the People do seem to have our heads on [somewhat] straight.

We care. We want to do good. And in an environment of extreme competition, far-reaching globalization, and 24/7 information—we expect, in fact, we practically DEMAND that the companies we give our hard-earned dollars to behave like good corporate citizens.

The question is… what are you [and your company] going to do about it?

Cause Marketing For Dummies

I know you’re not ALL dummies, but I think it’s safe to say that most of you are. So… The Genius shall [as usual] enlighten you in a way that will only require 3 or 4 of your 7 neurons.

Ready? Ok.

First the “Do”s:

1. Do something!
Yes, I realize that I just inadvertently said “do-do” (I have a 4-year-old son, which means no reference to potty talk goes unnoticed). The point here is that you WAKE UP from your ignorance and at a minimum, give some thought to the role cause marketing can and should play in your company’s/client’s overall strategy.

2. If [and when] you’re actually doing good, you should TELL PEOPLE!
I can understand being shy about publicizing an accounting scandal, executive office sex tapes, or class action lawsuits. But keeping your philanthropic endeavors hidden? Poppycock!

Research shows that 88% of Americans want to hear more from companies about their cause efforts—and are actively listening to what they say. So don’t be shy… inform and engage stakeholders about the good you’re doing. Trust me when I tell you it will pay off more than a celebrity endorsement, a glossy print ad, or even your run-of-the-mill Superbowl ad.

3. Align programs with business goals.
This seems like a no-brainer, but then… this IS cause marketing “for dummies”. You may be pretty, but you’re not bright. So—keep in mind that any cause marketing endeavor is doomed unless it considers deeply the issues that matter most to your customers and to your business. Alignment is key. Bullshit is not.

Now… for the all-important “Don’t”s:

1. Don’t bank on “one-offs”.
Sure, you can get some traction out of a cause-centered “promotion”. Slap a ribbon on something, jump on the “cause-of-the-month” bandwagon and color yourself happy!… Except… NO. That’s not how it works. Cause promotions might be an effective business strategy to increase short-term sales [for some], but superficial “one-offs” are not enough to build true loyalty.

Think long term, think alignment; think relationships, transformation, IMPACT. [There… now doesn’t that feel better already?]

2. Don’t forget that it’s not just about consistency; it’s about authenticity.
In the same way that shills get called out on blogs and other social media platforms (ahem, Whole Foods), so will cause marketing endeavors that are nothing but a front for a company that really doesn’t care.

The real message? DON’T F**K WITH PEOPLE.

Cause marketing can be hugely effective—and equally rewarding. But you’ll find yourself—and your shareholders—in a world of pain if you try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes about your true intentions.

3. Don’t forget the “how.”
– As in, how you communicate with your employees, clients, and the public at large. Research suggests that the vast majority of people engaging in causes are made aware of the cause by family/friends. And I probably don’t have to tell you again (or do I?) what a huge role the Internet and social media play in lubricating that communication pathway [did I really just say “lubricating”?].

If good is the new black, darlings (and I do believe it may be…), then… well, we’d all better start polishing our halos (or looking for a new line of work). I don’t know about you, but I kinda like this fashion trend.


9 Responses

  1. This reminds me of a certain company that spent a few million on “good deeds” and then spent much more than that advertising about how it was doing said “good deeds.”

    When big companies do good things, authentically, it’ll get noticed. And people will be more impressed by a word-of-mouth “did they really do that?” than any marketing campaign. (Technically, you could say word-of-mouth is a marketing campaign, but c’mon, I’m just supposed to leave a comment here).

  2. @keif, thanks for sharing your view. I agree that an imbalanced cause marketing program (ie more spent on advertising than on doing good) is sure to draw criticism. Authenticity is indeed the key to getting noticed. That’s not to say, though, that a company that’s genuinely committed to doing good should be hush-hush about it.

    Curious to hear from some folks who are active in the space. Your thoughts?

  3. You’re right… you’re right. I’m sufficiently shamed! I did a lot of this type of work in the early days of building my business but I haven’t done any since moving to Florida.

    Thanks for the wake up call!

  4. Great post! I completely agree.

    I was just chatting to a digital marketing MD at an interview recently attempting to explain some of the points you have raised and have also backed up with stats…
    wish i had them on hand at the time – instead of just my warm and fuzzy sentiments…

    when we work on campaigns day in day out….selling people things that they really don’t need, surely there is some room and time and space and budget to do a bit of something good for the world!
    The power of the digital channel for activism, for doing good, for promoting awareness is phenomenal…it’s one thing that keeps me happy to work in this industry…

    Another thing I also totally agree with is that the cause should match a companies business goals…..seriously, companies really need to do more of this….there is not much differentiation in product these days….marketing needs to talk to peoples self-interest, fill in narratives for people – enable them to support their identities or how they want to be …and be seen…

  5. […] July 23, 2008 at 10:44 pm · Filed under activism, marketing Just read an excellent post on Cause Marketing by Marta Kagen on her bonafide marketing genius blog called “Good is the new black. Get dressed”. […]

  6. A fascinating confluence here: we created an online CSR program which we called Footprints ( and quite apart from raising money, doing good and feeling good about it … sales on the for profit side of the business went up 1.87%.

    Which we weren’t actually looking for.

    Then we have opened up Footprints as an API and are giving it away to any company that want to get involved … in turn building partnerships with companies that we WANT to work with.

    Some people get it. Some don’t. But it’s a hellofalot of fun!

  7. Great post! I am currently working with a client, the Sustainable Living Roadshow ( — while they already have the majority of their 2008 sponsors on board, they will still include other last minute organizations. The tour is making 11 stops this year and will be educating people in an interactive and unique fashion about ways they can can live more sustainably. There is no “cause” like the cause to protect our world and our resources. This is one area of cause marketing that can grow and grow and grow.

  8. […] bonafide marketing genius, Marta Kagan, found some really interesting stats about cause marketing. For instance, 87% of Americans are likely to switch brands if another product is associated with a […]

  9. I guess you are a big marketing celebrity to tell people, that they are morons. And you did that in the first paragraph of your post 🙂


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