‘Cause Marketing Is Dead’

When the mother of cause marketing declares that “cause marketing as we know it is dead,” it’s time to pay attention. So said Carol Cone last week as she introduced the fourth annual Good Purpose Global Study by Edelman in New York. More than 7,000 consumers, ages 18 to 64, were surveyed in 13 countries for the study – and the top-line result was fascinating: 87 percent of those surveyed said that corporations should place the interests of society on at least equal footing with making a profit.

At a panel discussion last week at the BSR Conference, Cone said that corporate “purpose” has come to displace corporate philanthropy and cause marketing. “Slapping on a ribbon or some other short-term association doesn’t work any more,” she said. “It’s not about purpose, values in action.”

Consumers, she said, expect companies to have more of a social purpose – particularly among so-called millennials, those board after 1980. But there was also a warning for “social good” marketers in the Edelman, which was cued by advertising columnist Stuart Elliot in The New York Times: “However, 47 percent of respondents said they believed that brands supported causes only for publicity and promotion, not because they really cared. That was an increase of 10 percentage points from the survey last year.”

And panelist Matthew Bishop, U.S. business editor of the Economist and author of Philanthrocapitalism, also raised a note of skepticism – wondering if the results were more aspirational than actual among consumers. “Are we really not going to buy Apple because they have crappy environmental policies?”

Some highlights from the Good Purpose study:

  • For four years in a row, U.S. consumers rank purpose as significantly more important than design/innovation or brand loyalty as a purchase trigger when quality and price are the same. According to the 2010 goodpurpose Study, nearly half (47 percent) of Americans cite social purpose as the number one deciding factor, while 27 percent cite loyalty to the brand and 26 percent cite design or innovation when quality and price are the same.
  • While a significant number of American consumers are willing to purchase, recommend and promote companies that show a commitment to good causes, many are also willing to punish those that do not. More than one-third of Americans would punish a company that doesn’t actively support a good cause by criticizing it to others (34 percent), refusing to buy its products/ services (36 percent), or sharing negative opinions and experiences (37 percent). Nearly one half (47 percent) would not invest in such a company.
  • 53 percent of American millennials would help promote a socially responsible brand by promoting it on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Consumers in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico are more likely than Americans to purchase and promote brands that support good causes. They also demonstrate higher expectations of brands to support good causes. Approximately 8 in 10 consumers in the emerging markets (Brazil: 87 percent, Mexico: 85 percent, China and India: 79 percent) expect brands to do something to support a good cause, while only sixty-three percent of Americans agree.