The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Online Cause Marketing

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The above presentation was delivered to the Cause Marketing Forum last Tuesday, February 15. It focused on lessons learned integrating social media into cause marketing campaigns, and how the influx of conversations requires a new level of authenticity from causes and nonprofits.

All of the campaigns featured were from 2010 or 2011 with the exception of one (Haagen Dazs). Here is a discussion of three of the campaigns, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly featured in the first half of the presentation.

The Good: AMEX’s Small Business Saturday

Eastwood good ugly

American Express launched its Small Business Saturday campaign to encourage Americans to purchase from small businesses the day after Black Friday. Primarily a Facebook effort, AMEX integrated the application with a media push that included a launch with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as well as a Twitter campaign.

For every Fan Page “Like” up to 500,000 (the page surpassed 1.4 million), AMEX gave a $1 donation to Girls, Inc. to foster female entrepreneurship. Small businesses were featured on the page, and 10,000 small business owners received $100 worth of social advertising from Facebook.

The campaign had a lot to like about it: There was an obvious tie to American Express’s business, demonstrating authenticity. The effort integrated media relations, online advertising, and influencers and Twitter, all in addition to the strong use of the Facebook application. There were several great calls to action including a like turned into a dollar for Girls, Inc.; in exchange for signing up and spending, consumers got a discount; and using the wall to share small business stories, which along with Twitter encouraged participation and engagement.

The only possible improvements would be extending it beyond a moment in time, and making it a sustainable effort. In addition, there was too much focus on Facebook as the final destination with not enough traffic driving back to the AMEX site.

The Bad: Groupon’s Super Bomb

Van Cleef Good Ugly l

Not much more needs to be said about Groupon’s series of “humanitarian” ads. An attempt to make fun of American consumerism, the ads just insulted a good portion of the country, not to mention the Chinese government. In addition to the questionable creative, numerous tactical errors were made making Groupon’s 2011 Super Bowl ads one of the worst cause marketing campaigns ever.

No call to action helping the charities was present in the ads, and Groupon did not include an obvious URL. There was no explanation of the ideas behind the ads on Groupon’s social channels. When the blogosphere blew up, Groupon did not address concerns, instead it justified the attempted joke on their blog. Further, Groupon did not engage bloggers directly, and disregarded feedback. It took four days of mounting criticism for the company to pull the ads.

The Ugly: KFC’s Buckets for the Cure

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While selling a lot of buckets of chicken for charity ($8 million donated), this partnership had issues due to the tie between Komen’s mission to cure breast cancer, and KFC producing fatty foods. Komen’s own site had research demonstrating obesity as a precursor for older women developing breast cancer. This represents a larger issue where a nonprofit and company choose money over strategic partnerships, dancing with the wrong partner and degrading brand value.

When people put two and two together, bad blog posts started popping up. This campaign went from being a lethal generosity win for both parties to a full on blogodrama.

Here’s a breakdown of the good and the bad on the Buckets for the Cure: First of all financially, it has to be considered a win. Lots of chicken sold and money raised. But it was poorly engineered from the get-go as the Komen web site contradicted the campaign with its research. There was no explanation of why Komen chose KFC as a partner, and what they hope the relationship demonstrated.

Then there was no major social media component, but social media ended up being a key media set when bloggers took to their WordPresses. The good was that KFC engaged directly with bloggers and probably made friends, stopping the bad publicity from spreading too far. However, Komen completely ignored it, and 2010 and 2011 acts have continued to negatively impact their online and offline reputation.

Conclusion

Again, the whole presentation is above, but here are the concluding points for online cause marketers:

  • Civic media is the great opportunity to embrace customer voices
  • It can also turn on us
  • To avoid worst case scenarios, cause marketing campaigns need better engineering
  • Campaigns need authenticity mapping to corporate cultures and ethos
  • Use the tools to connect dots for stakeholders
  • Have your own site, use Facebook and Twitter for In AND Outbound
  • Empower stakeholders to participate, embrace and own your story
  • Be prepared for the ugly, and evolve (two way dialogue)
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