During SxSW, Beth Kanter, Kami Huyse and I posted our first team thought leadership piece, “Cause Marketing That Leads to Social Change.” It encompasses our 21st century view of CSR-based cause marketing initiatives in social environments (Image by Tom Fishburne). Key components include:
- Cause Washing Leads to Cynicism (need for authenticity)
- Leading with Social Outcomes (theory of change)
- Authenticity in Corporate Social Responsibility
- Contest Fatigue Sets In
- Empowering Stakeholders – Ensuring Change
- Use Social Tools to Immerse Stakeholders
The post is really thick, and may take some time to digest. There are parts already discussed in minor form through smaller blog posts on our three blogs. One of the newer areas that I found to be important was cause washing. Certainly, a concept changebloggers have bandied about before, but not one that has been well discussed in the larger communications and marketing world.
That’s going to change quickly as cause marketing continues to accelerate as a hot trend. Many companies will enter the foray, not because their culture would make such a move intelligent, but because the marketers think it’s a good idea. It’ll “refresh” their brand.
In reality, they will be committing the same mistake many marketers made when they attempted to brand their products green. The ensuing greenwashing backlash is still escalating as more and more companies try to enter the sustainable marketplace or differentiate from competitors with a dash of ecosense.
Not everyone will be able to bring the splash of millions to the table. Then what will they do when consumers get out-contested and start seeing through the five cent donations?
Beth pointed out Joey Leslie, who said, “Causewashing is hiding a brand behind a cause for corporate benefit.” But the benefit only goes as far as the consumers who get the warm fuzzies for the brand with the laundry machine. As cynicism rises, companies will need to back their cause efforts with substance, real change programs that actually match their cultural values and business mission.
I don’t want to discourage companies form trying to do good. In that sense, my friend Ike Pigott is right. Some progress is better than none. Instead, we need to elevate this conversation so that more companies and communicators engage in cause marketing with real socially responsible motives that will benefit them and their communities of interest.