Causely Blog


What Makes a Successful Cause Marketing Campaign?


There are bad cause marketing campaigns and there are great ones. Some continue on for decades and some fall flat. So, what makes one campaign more successful than the other? Experience shows us there are key components to successful cause marketing campaigns. Without those components, most campaigns crash and burn.

Below, we’ve outlined the pieces you need to consider when planning a cause marketing campaign. But first, a refresher on cause marketing and why it’s worth your time and investment…

Cause marketing is the marketing of a for-profit product or business which benefits a nonprofit charity or supports a social cause in some way. More than just a “campaign”, 97% of marketing executives believe cause marketing is a valid business strategy. Click here to read why brands invest in cause marketing in the first place.

Just like a business plan, a cause marketing campaign requires careful thought and a smart strategy. As much as there are key components to successful cause marketing campaigns, there are equally enough components that cause them to fail.

Key Components of a Cause Marketing Campaign

A cause campaign needs a specific goal and a specific plan to achieve that goal. Your goal can be whatever you need it to be. No matter what the goal is, be sure to incorporate a measurement system so that you know if your campaign was successful. Some examples of goals for cause campaigns are:

  • Brand awareness
  • Consumer engagement
  • Generate sales
  • Product Promotion
  • Increased email marketing conversions
  • Website traffic

The first step in deciding whether or not to start a cause campaign is to determine your company’s answer to a simple question: is your cause marketing campaign about engaging your consumers or just giving money to charity?

If your answer is the latter, then cause marketing is a waste of your time. Cause marketing is about engaging your consumers through the avenue of giving back. If you remove the consumer from the equation, you might as well just write the check and send out a press release.

Include the Non-Profit in the Campaign

Above all else, be sure to involve the non-profit you plan to benefit with your campaign. You can’t just run a campaign without their knowledge. Not only would  that hurt your campaign, it might also have legal ramifications for using the non-profit’s intellectual property without permission.

The first step is to find a cause that fits with your company’s values. If you choose an unrelated cause, your consumers will feel the disconnect and your campaign will suffer.

However, there are cause campaigns that don’t involve a specific non-profit. Rather, some campaigns are purely awareness-driven for ongoing cultural and political issues like women’s empowerment, LGBT rights, etc., which is entirely legal.

Find the Right Time

Timing is key. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all answer for determining the proper timing for a cause campaign. You have to find what works best for your company and consumers. Starbucks’ (RED) campaign worked well over Christmas because of their holiday cups, but that doesn’t mean Christmas is the best time for your company to launch a campaign.

Judy Chang, Senior Manager of Vertical Markets for PayPal spoke directly to this. “Grabbing and keeping the attention of supporters over a multi-week campaign is definitely a challenge. We’ve seen our best results with campaigns that last anywhere from one day to two weeks, such as Check-in for Charity, #beatcancer, and Charity Smackdown.”

Keep in mind that the right launch time is just as important as the length of your campaign. Garnering excitement about a campaign is vital in the short term, but over too much time, the excitement can fall apart and wreck the campaign.

The right launch time is equally as important as the right length of time for your campaign.

Engage Your Consumers

If your campaign is not engaging your consumers, you’re doing it wrong. Cause marketing is meant for doing good with your consumers. Here are a couple ways to entice your consumers to participate in the campaign: 

  • Invite people to join the conversation by including a branded hashtag on their photos and posts. Be careful though! Many companies just throw a hashtag on something and expect people to start using it. Spend some time in figuring out the right hashtag and use it to your advantage. Hopefully this Onion article will make you laugh.
  • Provide content for your consumers to share online and in person. American Express (while not supporting a non-profit cause, but rather an economic cause), did an excellent job of branding their  “Shop Small” campaign with both digital content and physical materials. They even created a logo with a great call to action.

American Express Shop Small

Always Have a Clear Call to action

Make sure consumers know what they are supporting and what they have to do to participate. If your campaign lacks clarity, it will not succeed. Arby’s PurposeFULL campaign did an exemplary job of creating a clear call to action. They partnered with Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry to make it happen. You can’t get much more clear then “donate $1 to help end childhood hunger in America.”

Arby's Cause Marketing Campaign

(Photo courtesy of Selfish Giving)

This campaign has been running since 2011 and has raised over $15 million for Share Our Strength. You can read about their campaign on Arby’s Corporate Responsibility website.

Communicate the “Why”

Consumers always want to know why. One study shows that when asked what types of campaigns people remember, sixty-nine percent of consumers say they are most likely to remember a public service announcement that presents the facts in either a surprising or a straightforward way. 

UN Women, an entity working for the empowerment of women did a cause campaign (unattached to a specific charity) to raise awareness about gener equality. The ad campaign did a shocking visual campaign using Google’s “auto complete tool.” Each image had a different phrase with a list of the most popular “auto complete” responses. They called it The “Auto Complete Truth” campaign. 

This was a unique way of showing the “why” behind supporting gender equality. Why? Because they used real-time data to prove that members in the society actually search for certain phrases in support of inequality.

Auto Complete Truth Campaign

While this is an example of a cause campaign without a non-profit partnership, the same principle applies to all cause marketing campaigns. Always show why the cause your company is  supporting matters. 

Make It Look Good

Whatever you do, make it look good. The right visual assets will determine the success of your campaign. There is a right color and font for every campaign. Make sure the look and feel of your campaign matches your company as well as the cause. This can be tricky, but not impossible.

Starbucks’ (RED) campaign used the color red to champion the campaign. The color tied the name, the cause, and the time of year all together.

Starbucks (RED) campaign

Get Your Team on Board

Without the support of your team members, the likelihood of your campaign succeeding is slim. Your employees are the voice of your company. If they aren’t excited about the campaign, consumers won’t be either. This is especially true of retail and restaurant businesses, which are consumer-facing models.

If you’re a franchise, be especially careful of “forcing” your franchisees to participate in a cause campaign they don’t believe in. You might consider getting “buy-in” from your team members or franchisees before launching the campaign.

Provide Transparent Results AFTER The Campaign

Finally, the most important piece. Share your impact. People will get excited about your campaign when you launch, but if you don’t share real results due to their support, that excitement will fade. This is a great way to ensure authenticity. Try to think about the results of one campaign as prep work for your next campaign.  If people are fulfilled from one campaign they will be more likely to support your next campaign.

However you choose to share results with your consumers, be sure to thank them. Your company might be running the campaign, but your consumers make it possible.

Some Cause Marketing Fails

Of course, not every cause marketing campaign succeeds. Here are two examples of cause campaigns that didn’t work out as planned.

KFC’s “Buckets for the Cure” Campaign

KFC Buckets for the Cure

Kentucky Fried Chicken partnered with Susan G. Komen, a foundation for breast cancer research. They  promised to donate $0.50 for every bucket of chicken. Unfortunately, the cause and the company were poorly matched. The campaign promoted unhealthy food in order to support medical research. Needless to say, the partnership and campaign didn’t last and was dubbed as inauthentic.

Kellogg’s “Give a Child Breakfast” Campaign

Kellogg's Cause Marketing

Kellogg’s started off on the right foot but through poor execution of their plan, the campaign failed with a single Tweet. The tweet enticed people to retweet in order to feed a vulnerable child. Only, followers took the tweet the wrong way. To consumers, Kellogg’s seemed more interested in publicity than caring for children. Kellogg’s ended up apologizing for the Tweet.

Kellogg's Cause Marketing

Keep in Mind That Cause Campaigns are Part of Your Business

If you’re considering starting a cause marketing campaign, be sure to treat it with as much diligence as any other marketing campaign. KFC and Kellogg’s made the mistake of not putting enough thought behind their non-profit partnerships or their execution plan, and it hurt their brand. Take the time to do it right.

And remember, don’t just do a cause marketing campaign because everyone else is doing it. Be authentic. Choose a cause that you and your entire company can get behind. Nothing is worse than bogus generosity. Your team or worse, your consumers, will see right through it.