The Cause Marketing Renaissance
While cause marketing has been around since the 1980s, there has been a significant recent uptick in the number and prominence of cause marketing initiatives. From the Super Bowl to the Grammys and Oscars, brands and celebrities have embraced a variety of causes and are picking up the torch of cause-based marketing. This should be great news for all of us interested in furthering our missions with perhaps the added benefit of big brand budgets and star-studded attention. But, before we get too excited, let’s look at where this new trend is coming from and how to make the most of it in the age of social media.
Today’s Cause Marketing is Millennial-Driven
It’s well documented that consumers would switch brands to buy a cause-related product if price and quality were similar. However, a new study by Pinpoint Market Research found that twenty-somethings want even more from brands—they want social, political and community action. Indeed, 88 percent want to see brands “effecting real change” in the community. This strong stance is important for causes, brands and politicians, since seven in 10 young adults consider themselves social activists; 79 percent would choose or even boycott companies based on the brand’s allegiance to social issues; and 66 percent plan to vote in the 2016 presidential elections.
Given that millennials are the largest population group the U.S. has ever seen, it is understandable why their predilection toward community action has such a big impact.
We've recently seen a host of cause-based messages. Coca-Cola featured "Kid President" Robby Novak, who has brittle bone disease, and Nationwide fought preventable car accidents by encouraging viewers to “make safe happen." We saw the trend continue at Hollywood’s biggest events this year, with Patricia Arquette speaking out for equal pay for equal work, and at the Grammys, where Katy Perry addressed the topic of domestic violence by bringing out an abuse survivor before her appearance.
A New Era Emerges
Given the millennial-driven trend to social action, I don’t see the focus on cause marketing disappearing anytime soon. And, in fact, I predict it is likely the beginning of a new era in brand marketing in which causes take center stage. This is potentially great news for nonprofits looking for brand partners to help them achieve their mission. Let’s examine how we might all smartly take advantage of this change with a few key questions:
- Are you aligned? According to the Pinpoint poll, issues that millennials care most about and where you can expect to see brands, celebrities and others rally are: online privacy (31 percent); America’s debt and deficit (22 percent); climate change (20 percent); LGBT rights (15 percent); net neutrality (7 percent); and police brutality/excessive force (5 percent). If your mission parallels any of these, you are clearly sitting in the cat-bird seat.
- Does your brand partner have social "street cred?" While much has been written about choosing the right partner, when thinking about reaching millennials I would encourage nonprofits to ask about their potential partners’ social media chops. Does the brand have the ability to engage with its audience on social media in a deep and meaningful way around a cause? For example, Always’ Super Bowl ad focused on empowering women by changing the meaning of the phrase “like a girl” from insult to compliment, addressing confidence issues in girls. The ad was genius in the way it intrinsically made the cause a social rallying cry, with the hashtag title #LikeAGirl and in fact concluded with, “Let’s make #LikeAGirl mean amazing things.” Of all the ads on Super Bowl Sunday, #LikeAGirl had the highest volume of social media mentions with more than 400,000. Positive sentiment across those mentions was also high, according to a study by Adobe, with 84 percent of mentions focused on feelings like admiration and joy.
- Can you foster action? As we saw in the Pinpoint Market Research poll, millennials are interested in affecting social change. A key way nonprofits can do so is by driving social action from cause marketing campaigns. Indeed, the ultimate form of engagement is one in which your fans and followers take action. Actions can be everything from “Add Your Name” to “Chip In," to “Volunteer” and more. Actions allow people to get involved in meaningful ways that contribute to the mission in a greater way. Further, actions show that your brand partner is all-in and willing to extend its partnership and marketing prowess to driving meaningful, mission-impacting outcomes.
According to eMarketer, millennials have the highest social networking penetration of any generation, and the highest Facebook and Twitter use-rates to match. As millennials unplug and rely on digital for their communications needs, it’s clear that social media is a must for any successful cause marketing program in this new era of increased attention on social change. Allowing millennials to take action beyond simply liking or buying from a brand that champions your mission has the ability to separate your program from others, while creating a true win-win where consumers, brands and your nonprofit can all work hand-in-glove to positively affect change in the community.
Shawn Kemp is cofounder of ActionSprout, where he helps power people’s ability to create lasting change by connecting organizations with their supporters.