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

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

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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

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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)

Questions & Answers on Cause Marketing via Social Media

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Two weeks ago Network for Good‘s Kate Olsen and I hosted a U-Stream chat to field questions and answer on our eGuide about Cause Marketing via Social Media. Well, we had some video broadcast issues with U-Stream, but managed to capture several questions via chat. Here are those questions and our answers.

If anyone has additional questions, please feel free to ask in the comment section. We’d love to continue the conversation.

Q1. How can nonprofits promote corporate partners’ investments (as part of their CSR programs), in ways that add value to corporations and also resonate with stakeholders?

There needs to be a clear value proposition that works for all parties. That means it takes more than simply offering a $5 donation with every purchase, although, in the end, that may make sense. Let’s look at two examples:

1) KFC and Komen came under fire this year for pink buckets of fried chicken. The fatty food and breast cancer combo did not resonate well for all of its stakeholders. What would have worked (may be not as well for sales) a little better for all parties is pink buckets of grilled chicken. The company gets the responsibility and marketing points, Komen better serves its mission, and non KFC customers may be more inclined to visit a KFC fast food restaurant.

2) Staples and DonorsChoose offers a great cause shopping model. Buying at Staples equals an investment in education, and one the customer chooses. Clearly a win for DonorsChoose and the customer, but also Staples. Why? Because Staples is an office products company. Most of the workforce that needs its products has a college education. Win, win, win.

Q2. What cutting-edge, creative types of promotion would make a nonprofit a leader in this arena?

Geez, that’s a tough question. Promotion and leadership seem opposed at times online. While you can certainly claim leadership, it’s really about serving online stakeholders with valuable content and activities for cause purposes. When you are successful at that, the community often promotes your effort faster than you would. The types of promotion – blogging, social network participation, crowdsourcing – really are a means to the end. Without the core understanding and service to the community, the cause marketing will fall on deaf ears.

So Pepsi’s Refresh, while annoying at times with its constant retweeting and vote for me asks (Geoff’s opinion), succeeds because the participants care enough to submit proposals and get the ideas promoted, and hopefully voted on… Thus promoting Pepsi. Even better for Pepsi is when voters also promote their favorite projects. But if leadership was contingent on Pepsi’s promotion solely, Refresh would not have been a success. It would have been a bad ad campaign.

Q3: What is cause marketing? How do you define it?

At its best, cause marketing is a subset of corporate social responsibility. CSR seeks to benefit a company’s community of interest with philanthropic acts, often in the spirit of the company’s natural interests. So for example, an auto manufacturer would have a natural interest in fostering better education for those inclined in core engineering studies such as math and science, or in supporting science that creates better hybrid vehicles that reduce gas emissions.

Cause marketing ties CSR with marketing by demonstrating to and even involving a customer or stakeholder base in the philanthropic activity. This can be marketing for a variety of reasons. Whether its branding, reputation, or direct sales.

Consider the Dow Live Earth Run for Water. Clearly Dow was trying to reinvest in its the community and reverse some of the past negative effects pollution has created on its brand. While the community didn’t react in an overwhelming positive to Dow’s efforts, it was a beginning first step to better its image, a clear marketing effort with a CSR bend to it.

Q4. What should be the nature of the relationship between companies and nonprofits?

In our opinion, it should be a well reviewed business deal for both organizations. A company clearly has some sort of marketing benefit it would like to achieve. And it is willing to pay for it.

But the nonprofit also has a stake in the game. It needs to decide whether the dollars will make the right impact on its programs and/or mission. It, too, will benefit from branding, but if the marketing crosses a line and conflicts with the larger organizational goals then the nonprofit should make a strategic decision to negotiate or say no.

In two prior examples, KFC and Dow, the nonprofits and causes involved suffered negative brand hits for participating in their respective efforts. Now, the money may have outweighed the negative consequences, but these are good examples of nonprofits that may have negotiated, and possibly could have done more to protect their brands.

Q5. How many cause marketing partners is ideal?

There’s no real limit, but there is such a thing as over exposure. Another question with multiple partners is while marketing may happen, is change occurring? Or are there so many chefs in the kitchen that the food is getting burned?

Again, this ties back to the nonprofit and organizational missions and programs. Does the cause marketing achieve these goals, or is it just energy invested in branding that doesn’t help the larger effort? This should be the ultimate barometer of a yes or no.

Q6. What are recommendations for achieving a good holiday social media campaign?

Holiday social media is critical to a cause’s effort. Forty percent of donations occur in the month of December, while 10 percent occur during the last three days of the year (source: Network for Good).

Allyson Kapin, editor of Care2’s Frogloop blog, suggests that the three most important elements of a holiday fundraising (or any) social media effort are 1) Building an effective email list, 2) building an effective landing page, and 3) storytelling, the heart of compelling people to participate online. The latter part is critical because if your cause is going to make eight or nine asks during the holiday season to cut through the clutter, you need to tell a great story.

Cause shopping may be a great win-win in these situations. Companies, too, are heavily reliant on end of year sales for profitability. So if a consumer can 1) purchase a gift while 2) making a donation, it can become easy. In many ways, this is the ask to the consumer. But without a compelling story, it’s just not going to work well.

An example of a cause shopping experience that achieves the four essentials of cause marketing (suitability, authenticity, transparency and selling point) is the Clinique “Happy Day” each year in December. Last year, Clinique worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters to create personalized holiday cards that embodied happiness during the season of giving. The cards were available to customers in store or online with a $30 purchase of Clinique products – a great tie-in to the cosmetic brand’s “Happy” product line. Clinique made a $350,000 donation to the charity and helped build awareness for the Big Brothers Big Sisters mission and programs. This year, be on the lookout for a new twist to the “Happy Day” campaign on December 10th.

Course Correction!

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The following is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of an outreach effort and results are lagging. Those measurable outcomes – the ones based on your original objectives before your strategy was created – seem unattainable. The desert of organic community development turns into the Sahara, and fear begins to develop.

That’s when you consider a course correction. Does a course correction represent a failure?

Maybe, and maybe not yet. Almost every online effort experiences some tweaks and optimization. For organizations that are newer to online communities, this may be a result of not fully understanding how the Fifth Estate views the issue, or perhaps simply a question of fine-tuning an application so it’s easier to use. In the worst cases, a strategic choice is off base such as a misunderstandings about the value an organization offers its stakeholders.

I look at the issues that arose over KFC’s recent offering of pink fried chicken buckets to benefit Komen’s fight against breast cancer as a classic example of this kind of disconnect. Obesity is often a pre-condition of breast cancer amongst older women, according to research linked to on the Komen web site. The end result was a bit of a disconnect with the nonprofit blogging community who saw the partnership as hypocritical.

What is clear is that monitoring measurement (discussed in depth in the next chapter) during outreach should tune you in to possible failures and opportunities for optimization before they happen. When these issues are identified, not making a course correction would be the worst failure of all.