As a part of our fellowship with the Society for New Communications Research, co-Author of the Networked Nonprofit and nonprofit and social media blogger Beth Kanter, who is also my partner at Zoetica, and I are looking at cause marketing and corporate social responsibility, and how companies can better work with nonprofits in these arenas.
Our focus is on campaigns that had a significant social media component, because we believe that this communication medium is and accelerator for this issue since the failures are often much more spectacular and widely reported. We have conducted a number of interviews with top brands engaged in social media for social good. We will publish a number of these “Conversational” case studies over the next few weeks on both Beth’s blog and here at Communication Overtones.
Corporate Altruism: The Blurring of the Lines Between CSR and Cause Marketing
by Kami Watson Huyse and Beth Kanter
Aligning with a cause is a great way for a for-profit company to both raise its profile while doing something good for society at large. For nonprofits and causes, having the right corporate partner can leverage the impact of the social change work.
Associating a product with a social or environmental cause that people care about is a popular marketing tactic among consumers. More than two in five consumers bought such a product in the past year, according to the “2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study.” And 75 percent donate to a company identified nonprofit, illustrating that corporate altruism is not only good for the bottom line, but also good for society.
CSR vs. Cause Marketing
In companies, corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments and corporate foundations have risen up as a substantial field of practice – the good ones come complete with a theory of change or goals to make social change the priority. Many CSR programs subscribe to the ideas of the triple bottom-line: people, planet and profit. Meaning that all three must figure in to what the company does in its corporate philanthropy.
On the other side, cause marketing has risen up as a way to sell more products, widgets or even ideas, with a non-profit or altruistic element to drive the program. The bottom line here usually rules the day; however there has been a move toward what we see as more CSR-like elements popping up in cause marketing programs.
The grand debate over CSR vs. cause marketing seems to be getting more blurry. So much so that the two are often confused and interchanged by those not deeply in the community, and most certainly by public relations departments and marketing. Could it be that it is not a question of either-or, but rather a question of a continuum? And if so, what are the different points on this continuum and what are the best practices for each?
These are real-world questions that go well beyond philosophy. The genie is out of the bottle, companies and nonprofit causes will continue to co-exist.
Cause Marketing Gone Bad?
However, the ways that companies and causes have aligned in the marketplace have ranged from the sublime to plain old slimy. Charities and causes are left to wonder, should we partner with companies? If so, how? And those that choose poorly are subject to being the conduits to greenwashing, pinkwashing, and any other kind of washing you can imagine. When the accusations start flying, it can get ugly fast.
Take for example, “Buckets for the Cure” fund-raising campaign where Susan G. Komen for the Cure teamed up with KFC (formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken). For each $5 bucket (pink!) of fried chicken bought between April 5 – May 9, 2010, KFC donated 50 cents to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The goal was to raise $8.5 million — what the KFC-Komen alliance is calling “the largest single donation to end breast cancer forever.” In the end, Komen received $4.2 million from KFC, which is a lot of money to use toward the cause. However, at what cost to credibility? Others wondered whether Komen had read their own educational literature about the connection between high fat diets and breast cancer? A simple shift to only crediting buckets of grilled chicken might have brought in less money, but at a higher credibility. It is these subtle shifts, and learnings, that we hope to uncover in our research.
Best Practices for Cause Marketing and CSR
So, can we put down the weapons and look at how to do it better?
Beth and I are taking a close look at the continuum from cause marketing to CSR. We are publishing our research in the early stages to help identify other case studies we should profile and get feedback on our working hypothesis. We recognize that are many diverse opinions on best practices for incorporating social media into cause marketing and CSR, and that is okay. Dissent on our research model and our findings are okay. We would only ask that everyone refrain from name calling and other attacks around the companies involved.
Instead, we hope we can co-create this model with all of you and come out the other side of this research much smarter as a community, and much richer as a society.
As part of our research, we will present at the 5th Annual SNCR Research Symposium in Stanford, Calif. on November 5, 2010. We hope some of you will choose to register and join us there.
What do you think are some of the best examples of CSR and cause-marketing programs that incorporate social media? What are some of the worst?
Photo Credit: Flickr Photo by Kevin Dooley