Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 17: Is Cause Marketing Persuasive?

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 17, 2009

tide_base_loadsofhope_big_1_You’ve heard of cause marketing. That’s when businesses support/sponsor a cause publicly in order to, ultimately, line their pockets with the proceeds of goodwill. Think Dawn cleaning up birds affected by oil spills. Pampers’s tetanus shots for expecting moms. The Lexus/Scholastic Eco Challenge for students. Haagen Dazs’s support for bees/pollinators. And the oh-so-popular Sears sponsorship of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. 

At their most basic, cause marketing campaigns are product placements. The Extreme Makeover designers go running through Sears in search of appliances for the new home, with a big ol’ “Sears” sign overhead. Product placement.

Haagen Dazs Supports Honeybees

Haagen Dazs Supports Honeybees

So, here’s the question: Are product placements — as overt attempts to entrench a brand in one’s memory and, hence, as overt marketing — actually persuasive in cause marketing campaigns?

If you read this popular article from AdAge, you’d say that, yes, they are. But let’s dig a bit deeper than that, shall we? On Day 17 of the 30 Days of Persuasion, that’s exactly what we’ll do. 

When Consumers Reward Companies for Self-Serving Selflessness
Consumer decision-making researchers Drs. Becker-Olsen and Cudmore argued that consumers will support a company that engages in cause marketing (i.e., sponsoring philanthropic efforts) when these 3 things are true:

  1. The consumer believes the effort makes sense or fits with the company’s products/services offerings
  2. The consumer believes the act is from the heart (motivated by pro-social ideals)
  3. The consumer perceives the act as proactive rather than reactive

So Sears engaging in cause marketing on Extreme Makeover should enhance consumer attitudes towards Sears because it meets those 3 heuristics. That is, it makes sense for Sears to donate appliances; they consistently sponsor the TV program, which feels like true corporate motivation; and their efforts were not motivated by negative PR. Even further, Sears restrains its product placements, so viewers aren’t beaten over the head with their commercial intents.

Surprise, surprise: Even consumers think it’s okay for companies to engage in cause marketing… under the right conditions. 

…And When They Don’t (and Your Efforts Backfire)
You’re motoring along a road in Kentucky, and you pass over the black-filled remnant of what once was a pothole. You glance down, and what do you see but a big ol’ KFC logo and “Re-freshed by KFC” stamped in white paint on it?  

KFC Kindly Fills Potholes - And Makes Sure You Know to Thank Them

KFC Kindly Fills Potholes - And Makes Sure You Know to Thank Them

Now tell me, do you feel oh-so-glad that KFC was kind enough to take a few of their billions of dollars and fill in the potholes you thought your tax dollars were going towards? Or do you maybe feel a touch choked that not only are taxes crazy but now you’ve gotta deal with KFC’s thinly veiled attempt to get you off the road and into their drive-thru… where the chicken is barely chicken, nevermind “fresh”. 

KFC, you already knew consumers were hugely skeptical about being marketed to, but you had to go and slap your logo all over their streets. 

What KFC was trying to do here was to engage in cause marketing (not a bad thing) and enhance their brand in consumers’ memories (not a bad thing). But here’s where they went wrong, insofar as persuasion is concerned: they revealed their hidden commercial intent. How? By spray-painting every single pothole with their logo and even incorporating some sort of new tagline around their product as “fresh”. (Wha….?)

It’d be like every person on Extreme Makeover wearing a Sears t-shirt. And the entire program being named “Sears Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”.

According to Drs. Bhatnagar and Aksoy, companies like KFC can expect consumer backlash to heavy-handed cause marketing in the form of a negative impact on:  

  • The trust consumers have in that brand
  • The trust consumers have in the claims that brand makes
  • The trust consumers have in the media used

Companies Who Are Doing Cause Marketing Persuasively Online
The web’s a persuasive tool, so why not take these efforts online? These websites designed around cause marketing initiatives meet Becker-Olsen and Cudmore’s 3 criteria of fit, motivation and timeliness/proactive-approach. 

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty Fits the Product and the Brand Value Proposition: To Be Real (99.44% Pure!)

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty Fits the Product and the Brand Value Proposition: To Be Real (99.44% Pure!)

 

Accor Hotel Group Tucks Their Great Microsite (for the Accor Foundation) Into a Corner of Their Corporate Site... Rather Than Parading Their Philanthropy

Accor Hotel Group Tucks Their Great Microsite (for the Accor Foundation) Into a Corner of Their Corporate Site... Rather Than Parading Their Philanthropy

 

Virgin's Music Movement Fits Well With Their Brand and, As One of Nearly 10 Movements in Virgin Unite, Shows All the Right Motivations

Virgin's Music Movement Fits Well With Their Brand and, As One of Nearly 10 Movements in Virgin Unite, Shows All the Right Motivations

So, at the End of the Day, Is Cause Marketing Persuasive?
Well, 92% of US adults have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause the consumer believes in, and 87% of consumers say they’d switch brands if quality & price were the same but the other brand supported a good cause. So we can say that, when done well, cause marketing can be extremely effective. According to Nielsen Media Research, Extreme Makeover has helped Sears achieve better recognition and positive feelings among consumers:

August 28, 2007, New York, NY —  The Sears Department Store placement on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” had the top product placement score on broadcast network television in June 2007, The Nielsen Company reported today in a new metric based on both brand recognition and positive feeling.  According to Nielsen’s product placement measurement service, 58.1% of the “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” audience not only were able to recognize the presence of the Sears store brand during the program but also came away with a positive feeling for the brand as a result of that exposure. 

Time will tell how people actually respond to KFC’s initiative. 🙂 So far, it looks like the mayors of a lot of the towns KFC is approaching re: their city’s potholes are not jumping at the opportunity……..

~joanna

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