Buy the One with the Pink Ribbon

| by Shannon Williams

Last Thursday night I was baking brownies for an event for our children. It was 9:30 when I started and AFTER I creamed the butter and sugar, I realized I had no eggs. Fortunately, my husband was at work function, so I was able to text him and ask him to pick some eggs up on the way home.

When he walked in the door, eggs in hand, he was quite proud to tell me, “I bought this brand because it had the pink ribbon on it.” Knowing that I am a big fan of our local Susan G. Komen Affiliate, he thought I would be pleased. I was (although I would have been happy with any eggs that would allow me to finish the brownies), but it got me thinking as I went on my way baking.

We know cause marketing is an effective marketing tool. It has become a nearly $2 billion business in our country. Countless products proudly display a ribbon or a symbol to show support of important causes. In turn companies contribute a portion of the proceeds from each ribbon-clad purchase.

And consumer research shows that nearly 50% of all American consumers are motivated to buy a product (at least from time to time) because of the affiliation with the cause. In fact, the 2013 Cone Communications Social Impact Survey says, “The U.S. consumer appetite for corporate support of social and environmental issues appears insatiable.”

And yet, does cause marketing really strengthen the long-term sustainability of our local non-profits or even our national non-profits? Maybe.

As we are more and more inundated with cause marketing, I think we are becoming more and more curious about the impact it is having on the non-profit partners they (we) support. What is the difference that Yoplait is making with the pink lids? How much support do they give to the Komen Foundation and what has been the impact of that support? Should I keep reaching for the pink lids or the eggs with the ribbons? Yoplait may be sharing this information. I just haven’t seen it.

This is especially true at the local level. We have all eaten at a local restaurant on a night where our favorite non-profit receives 10% of the proceeds. Have you ever gone back a month later and found a table tent that says how much was contributed that night AND the impact it had for the clients served by the non-profit? I haven’t, but I think that intentional follow up to cause marketing strategies might actually have an impact on the sustainability of non-profits.

If I knew that by eating at Sam’s Sandwich Shop, 25 local women received a mammogram they could not otherwise afford, I might be on the lookout for the next Komen night at Sam’s. If I learned that breast cancer was detected in one of those women, I might be really thankful that Sam decided to support Komen that night. And, I might just be inspired to scan a QR code on that table tent to read more about her story. Maybe, I would even go so far as to visit the Komen website to make my own direct gift.

But, if I never hear any more about it. It probably won’t cross my mind.

Cause marketing is a good thing, but it us up to us in the non-profit world to help our for-profit partners celebrate the good that happened because of this strategy. It can’t just be a check presentation. It has to be more if we really want the effort to give more than a one-time monetary boost to our organization.

Non-profit sustainability is rooted in the relationships it has with its donors and prospective donors. Cause marketing is designed around a middle man (product). It is up to us to work to bridge that gap by helping our partners communicate the impact of the dollars invested in our work through the products that are sold. If we don’t, they won’t—that much we already know.

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