News & CommentaryArchive
Oct 08, 2010
Starring Cause Marketing Campaigns
Another holiday season laden to the gills with Cause Marketing/Embedded Giving—those gimmicks where purveyors of some retail product promise to give “a portion of the proceeds” to some cause—is upon us. The use of the word “gimmick” probably betrays my sentiments toward these programs, but if you’re in any doubt see here and here and here and here. Or you could head over to Lucy Bernholz’s blog and read her latest on the topic: “Embedded Giving: Bad for You, Bad for Change”
This year I’ve decided to do something a bit more than just point out the questions, flaws and issues with cause marketing and embedded giving. I’m going to attempt to start a crowdsourced certification of cause marketing programs based on conformance with minimum standards of disclosure. Essentially, I’m asking you to 1) help me form a set of minimum, easy to judge standards for programs that are more than just gimmicks, and 2) start pointing out and rating cause marketing programs that meet those standards.
In terms of standards, let me suggest some ground rules and then a working prototype.
a) the system has to be simple, 5 standards or less (see Hope Consulting’s Money for Good study for why)
b) the system has to be as objective as possible
c) the system has to be able to distinguish between programs at a finer than binary level (e.g. not “good/bad”, but “dubious, questionable, OK, tolerable”—there I go giving away my priors again).
The Working Prototype:
My prototype is a five-star system based on meeting five basic standards. In my mind, any program that doesn’t meet all of these standards should be shunned, but I know that’s not realistic. So in the meantime, we get a ranking of zero to five stars based on whether the program conforms to each starred standard. The five standards:
1) The program says exactly what charity will receive the funds, with enough information for a person to find and investigate the charity on their own.
2) The program says exactly how much money the charity will receive (either in total or from each purchase with a projection of the total and any minimum or maximums built-in.) Note that percentages, especially such nebulous percentages as “2% of the profits”, do not meet this standard. Tell me the money.
3) The program says when the charity will receive the funds.
4) The program says what the funds will be used for or if there are any restrictions on the use of funds. This is especially important when brands link up to very large charities that do lots of things in lots of places (e.g. Save the Children, United Way, World Wildlife Fund). This star isn’t about the good or bad of restricted funds, it’s just asking for full disclosure on the terms of the funds and what they will be used for.
5) The program says why the charity was chosen. I don’t expect any program to meet this criteria, but I think its important to push corporations with charitable programs to using the resources at their disposal to help the general public find good charities. Corporations invest millions of dollars in these cause marketing campaigns. The least they could do is spend some of that money doing due diligence on the charities and telling the public what they find.
To show the system in action, here are initial ratings of three cause marketing programs which I selected simply based on being the first ones I stumbled across when I went looking for examples today.
1) Spunky Sprout and Reach the Children. 1 Star.
Spunky Sprout, an on-line children’s clothing retailer rated “Best of the Web” in 2009 by InStyle magazine, provides the full name and a link to the charity’s site (shockingly rare). Other than that, nothing. No information about how much money, when, for what or why Reach the Children was chosen.
2) Jared/Pandora and Susan G. Komen for the Cure: 1.5 stars.
Pandora is a jewelry maker. “Ten percent of the proceeds” from the sale of certain items will be donated. So in my scoring, they get one star for clearly identifying the charity and half-a-star for at least mentioning what the money will be used for: “to help support the organization’s research and community-based outreach programs”. That’s only half a star because its difficult to figure out exactly what Komen spends money on (see this post from GiveWell) and because it doesn’t specify whether there are any restrictions on the funds or that they are for general operating support. While the ad does mention a specific percentage as a donation, it uses the nebulous “proceeds” failing to specify what proceeds means (given that Pandora is sold through retailers, is proceeds the retail price or the wholesale price?) or clarifying if there is a minimum or maximum donation. Finally, we get no information on when the money will be given to Komen or why Komen was chosen.
3) The Body Shop and ECPAT: 1.5 Stars.
While ECPAT is clearly identified and easy to find with Google, why not just link to the site? Very similar to Pandora’s promotion, the ad nominally tells us what the funds are for but “combat and raise awareness of sex trafficking of children” is very vague and could mean almost anything. This campaign also commits the sin of telling us that “100% of the net proceeds” go to the charity, there’s no way of knowing what the net proceeds might be. Does the charity get a penny or a dollar? We also don’t know when the charity gets the funds or why The Body Shop chose ECPAT versus the many other anti-trafficking organizations out there.
So what do you think? Are these the right standards to demand of a cause marketing program? What would you change, add or replace?
Just as important, tell me about a cause marketing program that meets 3 or more of these standards. And just for fun, tell me about cause marketing programs that meet none of the standards. While I look forward to praising a good program or two, I can’t deny that it will be fun to ridicule the worst of the programs and expose them for the cheap and tawdry trick that they are.
Update: Joe Waters from Selfish Giving has written a thoughtful response, even going so far as to rate his own current cause marketing program, iParty and The Kids Fund at Boston Medical coming in at 3 stars . I won’t quibble with his rating for now, though he has introduced 1/4 stars. This is what I get for allowing 1/2 stars. Regardless, its an excellent post, well worth reading. Feel free to challenge Joe’s rating in the comments. Anyone out there got a program that beats 3 stars?
Update 2: After several requests, I’ve applied the methodology to TOMS Shoes after a cursory review and awarded 2 stars. Please take a look at my logic in the comments and let me know if I’ve gotten anything wrong.