Is Cause Marketing Still Cool?

CauseMktOctober is often dubbed Pinktober in the NFL because of breast cancer awareness. Can cause marketing help the NFL?  Is it still cool? Some 89% of Americans say they are likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause, but how can marketers make it part of their brand DNA?

The marketing place is saturated with cause-related messages.  Everything from casual shoes to detergent purchases can help someone else.  But here is the rub – Americans may be unclear on the impact that such efforts support.  According to the 2013 Cone Communications Social Impact Study, fewer than one-in-five consumers (16%) believes companies have made significant positive impact on social or environmental issues, and just 25 percent believes their own purchases substantially influence those issues.

Pink Sundays.  The NFL has struggled with reports that their pink Sundays where they ask players to wear pink gloves, shoes and towels has raised awareness, but it has resulted in limited donations.  The league reports that the NFL is actually donating about 5% to the American Cancer Society from what they make through the sale of pink products on the NFL online shop and an online auction.  The NFL also reports that local hospitals partner with them in individual markets to promote regular mammograms.  At the Titans game on October 5, the Titans handed out Breast Cancer fans and partnered with St. Thomas Health System.

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But how does cause marketing help a brand?  Patagonia is a great study in matching the cause to the brand.  Two-thirds of consumers who have bought Patagonia chose it because of the causes it supports.  Patagonia’s “Common Threads” repairs clothes and takes back used clothes to recycle. They focus on reduced consumption, repair, resale and recycling.   It certainly fits the environmentally sensitive target audience and the nature-loving brand.  And that’s what a good cause marketing campaign needs to do.  It must be authentic, unique and important to the target audience.

That’s where breast cancer and the NFL seem to be lacking.  The connection is forced.  Maybe this year’s focus should turn to domestic violence awareness in light of recent NFL player incidents.  Now that’s a real match for the NFL.  Standing up to a problem they can really impact.  The Titans made a good start here in Nashville with their recent announcement of a donation to the YWCA and the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and a domestic violence awareness event during the October 12 game with Jacksonville.  Nashville Mayor Karl Dean says the team’s involvement could be the tipping point in working to stop domestic violence and could become a national model.

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