Marketing tactic or altruistic endeavour? Why do brands take on special causes?
Brands taking hold of an initiative like self-esteem, body shape or empowering the inner athlete in women seem like noble ideas. It’s a chance to redraw the landscape around stereotypes and help the unspoken have a voice.
In today’s world, these initiatives thrive in social media and begin with a hashtag. Take #LikeAGirl for example. The campaign is run by the feminine hygiene brand Always and, in their words, “We’re kicking off an epic battle to make sure that girls everywhere keep their confidence throughout puberty and beyond.” Another is Dove’s #CampaignForRealBeauty which is over 10 years old and strives to change the conversation about women’s beauty. Nike recently launched a campaign #betterforit which supports women’s athletic inner voice. By motivating and inspiring women as athletes to push to the next level, Nike has positioned itself the rainmaker for your everyday woman who works out.
What do these three brands have in common? Why do they spend time and money to launch these campaigns to inspire, motivate or reveal social causes? I’m naturally sceptical; surely they aren’t doing it just to be altruistic. Scratch under the surface and you’ll find that they are all mature brands in highly competitive markets.
Standing for a cause is important in mature markets where it is difficult to distinguish your product from the competition. At this product lifecycle stage it is less effective to sell features and benefits, but rather a warm and fuzzy brand “frame” around the product. A social cause adds intangible assets of the brand to the consumer. Marketers are relying on this brand frame to prompt consumers to look past the lower priced competition (like private labels) and purchase based on that warm fuzzy feeling.
But the glass-half-full side of me says that these brands are inspiring, motivating and/or uncovering social causes because they have the power and the corporate conscious to do it. If that’s true, can smaller, less developed brands take hold of an initiative too? Yes, most definitely. Take a small brand like Georgetown Cupcakes. They regularly donate cupcakes to ten of thousands of charitable causes including “Operation Cupcake” where every year during the holidays they donated thousands of cupcakes to US military personnel serving abroad.
So, while marketing framing may be a benefit for more mature brands, smaller ones also understand the value of backing a social cause. However, you just may not hear about it, as their marketing budget isn’t as deep.
According to one study, 90% of Americans are likely to trust with a brand if it supports a social cause. So, in essence you can have your cupcake and eat it too.
Greta Paa-Kerner (@gretapk) is a Guest Lecturer on digital and affiliate marketing as well as a Management Consultant through Ganduxer Consulting.