Gone are the days when marketing communication was about pitching strategically thought out product benefits in witty consumer-speak and well-crafted visuals. I can hear marketers breathe a collective sigh of relief at its demise. Because, clearly, its replacement, the cause marketing campaign is an easier beast to tame, right?
On the surface, it seems really simple. Cause marketing doesn’t really require a clever thought, product understanding or consumer research. Just follow this easy recipe to the tee: Pick a cause, the most trending one (preferably, with a hashtag of its own). Create a shrill video with real footage, synced with a preachy narrative and ending with an inspiring message (no taglines, please, that’s so old school). And just watch as your target group (nay, the world at large) laps it up with oohs and ahs and shares it on their timelines, feeds and WhatsApp groups.
Don’t believe me? Gillette did just that at the beginning of the year, with “The Best a Man Can Be” campaign, which definitely went viral.
Except not in a good way. Many perceived the campaign as opportunistic, capitalising on a cause that is having its long overdue moment. Others called out the brand both for its holier-than-thou attitude and the pink-tax it charges for its female-oriented products.
Perhaps cause marketing isn’t as simple as it seems.
If you scratch the surface of this concept, expecting to see a multitude of trending causes and picking one that fits just right, then you’re mistaken. Instead, you’ll find yourself staring back at yourself. Or rather, at your brand purpose.
Your brand purpose is the true driver of any cause marketing effort. To break it down, think about your brand’s vision. If you’re a dairy producer, your vision might be to offer a safe, pure and nutritious dairy products to as many people as possible. And what cause is worth supporting to make this vision a reality? A dairy farmer’s financial independence, perhaps?
This is what Amul did when it developed a distribution system that took the financial burden of treating, packing and selling milk away from the farmers, enabling them to stay afloat without applying for loans or mortgaging land. The story of Verghese Kurien, who led this milk cooperative movement, inspired the 1976 movie Manthan by Shyam Benegal. What’s more, the movie was entirely crowdfunded by 500,000 farmers. Goes to show how much they bought into Amul’s vision.
When you really look at your brand vision and purpose, you’ll recognise the causes that align with it, trending or not. And championing these causes will show your audience that you’re a serious stakeholder in the conversation, instead of merely another brand jumping onto the bandwagon of a highly visible cause.
The outdoors-wear brand Patagonia recognised that without the great outdoors in pristine condition, there is probably no purpose to their products in the first place. Therefore, they donated their $10 million tax break to environmental charities. More interestingly, their 2013 marketing campaign outright asked their customers to purchase less, even as they pledged to provide them with longlasting clothes.
In both these cases, brand purpose didn’t come from looking at the latest trends or the most momentous causes or following a strategy guidebook. In fact, there is no recipe to refer to. Instead, organisations that get it right simply stay true to who they are. They probe within themselves to find a message, or a cause, that resonates. And what they mine is gold, something no other brand can stake claim to.
What they find is their brand’s raison d’etre, the very purpose that permeates a store manager’s smiles as she takes care of a customer complaint. Or an operation manager’s new distribution model that ensures that the product reaches those who really need it. Zero in on this, your brand’s true purpose, and you’ll find a cause to support, and values to uphold, that truly aligns with your organisation’s actions.