Fri, March 02 2007

Cause-Related Marketing: Seeing RED and Pink

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Cause-related marketing •

Exhibit A: The RED campaign, an incredibly successful cause-related marketing campaign started by Bono and Bobby Shriver, that encourages us to buy products to benefit aid programs in Africa.


Exhibit B: The BuyLessCrap campaign, which says RED is (RED)iculous and meaning(LESS).


Exhibit C: Think Before You Pink, which is another take on cause-marketing (in this case, breast-cancer-related). 


I expect we’ll be seeing more cause-related-marketing and more subsequent consumer scrutiny in the months ahead, so let’s dig a little deeper into these campaigns. 

The BuyLessCrap folks sent me a link to their campaign earlier this week.  Their site states, “Shopping is not the solution.  Buy (LESS).  Give More.”  My first reaction to the campaign was fairly negative for several reasons:

1.) Bashing consumerism in our country is a losing proposition.  It alienates the vast majority of people, because most Americans like to buy things. 
2.) Asking people to donate directly to charity INSTEAD of shopping seems like an unnecessary sacrifice.  The message doesn’t feel inspirational, it feels scolding.  Can’t I shop


3.) While I believe people SHOULD give to charity directly, I don’t buy that cause-related marketing is REDiculous.  It may not be “the” solution, but it’s an important piece of


solution to the fundraising picture.  There are a few reasons it compliments fundraising efforts.  It doesn’t require people to change their buying behavior.  It gives people a way to give while they are doing a transaction they’d probably do anyway.  It exposes new audiences to causes, because companies have a lot more marketing muscle than nonprofits do.  Yes, companies benefit, but so do nonprofits. 

So I asked buylesscrap about these issues, and their prompt answers surprised me a bit.  Below is my email interview with Ben Davis of wpi, which put together the site.  As we corresponded, I realized his aim is not so much anti-cause-marketing as it about urging more transparency in cause-related marketing, similar to Think Before You Pink.  He said the RED campaign was not open about how it benefits its causes, and he wanted them to be more so.  So I emailed RED, and within 90 minutes, they emailed me back lots of information that struck me as quite transparent.  I’ve included their comments here, too.  It’s a very interesting conversation, so read on… AND keep in mind what I think is what is not in dispute:

If you are doing any cause-related marketing, remember that transparency is essential.  Tell donors how much of the money is going where, regularly, or they will think you’re hiding something.

Here is my Q&A with Ben.

Q: Who is your audience for this?

A: Our hope is that BUY (LESS) will be shared virally by anyone who has questions about the (RED) campaign and other cause-related marketing efforts…how much is spent, where the money really goes (CEO salaries, etc.) and how much makes it to the “cause.” We believe this covers a wide demographic. Reaction to the site has been immediate, positive, and expressed from diverse quarters.  In addition, we want to stimulate a healthy discussion and exploration of the topic among thought-leaders. (Yourself included!)

Q: How did you choose the message?

A: It chose us. The idea of replacing the suffix (LESS) for (RED) hit me one day while being bombarded by (RED) advertising, and suddenly the vague discomfort with the campaign crystallized: SHOPPING IS NOT A SOLUTION. BUY (LESS). GIVE MORE. Some great and talented friends loved the idea and together we sharpened the focus and created BUY (LESS) and it’s viral site

Q: Do you feel cause-related marketing has a place in the charitable giving spectrum, for people who simply like to buy things and feel good about it - but don’t donate to charity? 

A: We support all forms of giving, including cause-related marketing. (And for the record, we love Bono, we think Oprah is great, we shop, we adore our iPods, and we want GAP—a San Francisco-based company—to do well.) It is our hope that with greater scrutiny, transparency, and possibly increased regulation, cause-related marketing can be less manipulative and can drive even greater and more certain levels of donations to charity. We do not think that shopping, however, should ever be considered a legitimate substitute for charitable giving. Just Give.

Q: Have you coordinated with the nonprofits featured on your site?  What is their feeling on the campaign?

A: Frankly, we’ve not contacted them. We are interested to gauge their reaction and hope they provide one. Keep in mind, we are taking on giants, and all the money and power are pretty much aligned on the other side of this issue. We are hoping for the best, but bracing for a potentially negative and even hostile or litigious response from the vested interests. We are warmed, however, by the citizen-level response we received so far. 

Q: What are your goals for the site - volume of donations, etc?

1) To provide a means to give directly to charities without having to shop. We’ve set no specific goals for volume of donations, and in fact have no way to track actual donations resulting from our site.

2) To provoke discussion and change around cause-related marketing in order to refine and strengthen the model.

3) To encourage consumers to de-couple cause-related marketing (at least in terms of consumption) with charitable giving. Buying a $100 product is not the same as giving $100 to charity. Buy (LESS). Give more.

Q: The idea of transparency is interesting - are you familiar with

A: No. But thank you. We’ll look into it. 

Q: Do you think there is a risk of the no-don’t-negative parts of the message which essentially attack consumerism and cause marketing distracting from the positive-give-transparency message?  Or is the negative part needed so it goes viral with a smaller constituency that feels angry and will create pressure?  Sounds from your answer to the audience question that it is the latter?

A: Another really good question and one we wrestled with. We were quite concerned with the negative aspects of BUY (LESS) and worked hard to make sure the underlying message was positive and constructive. The key players involved, Aaron Feiger of RomanticStatic, Debra Amador of MindfulPR, and myself are all overwhelmingly positive personalities and fully recognize the many pitfalls of negativity. Yet, without the hook—without parodying the (RED) campaign as a means to garner viral success and to stimulate discussion—we didn’t feel we would have an impact. A white paper on (RED) would go mostly un(READ). Sorry.  We believe the site’s appeal will extend beyond an angry few. In fact, it already has. For all its celebrity backing and marketing might, (RED) leaves many people confused and full of nagging questions. Who benefits? How much money really reaches the cause? Is this intended as a substitute for charitable giving? Can we really consume our way to a cure? Is feeling good about shopping a healthy emotional response to human suffering? Am I being manipulated?  Our biggest reason for plunging ahead despite the negative aspects, however, was our utter inability to get a straight answer—or really any substantive information at all—about what’s been spent on the (RED) Campaign. That alone made us realize that discussion and reform was needed. 

On that note, I decided to ask RED myself, and here’s what Julie Cordua promptly replied:

The key to the (RED) proposition is results – delivering compelling products to people already in the market for everyday items; delivering business support for and awareness of the Global Fund;  and delivering money to buy medicine for people dying of AIDS in Africa.

In our first nine months (March – December, 2006), (RED) generated more than $20M for the Global Fund ($18M has already been paid, GF is still receiving payments). This is four times more than the private sector has contributed to the Global Fund since the Fund was founded in 2002.  (The $11M mentioned in the [BuyLessCrap] press release is inaccurate and based off of what checks were in the Fund by Dec. 31, 2006, not how much had been generated in that time.  As you know, it takes time to close the books, finish calculations and cut checks at the end of the year.)

(RED) is built for long-term, sustainable impact.  We believe engaging the world’s marketing powers and product designers, and putting them to work for those in desperate need is a smart way to break an issue that individual contributions alone cannot master.

A few specific points as related to [Ben’s] comments:

1) There were questions about how much money was given from each product.  This was clearly stated from the day we launched (see press release) and is also communicated on partner sites or marketing information. 

Clarification on partner contributions:

o     Gap: 50% of gross profits

o     Emporio Armani: 40% of gross profit, on average

o     Converse: 5% - 15% of net sales

o     Motorola: $17 per handset

o     Apple: $10 per iPod Nano

o     American Express: 1% of monthly bill (UK Only)

2) The question is who benefits and where does the money really go?  All (RED) money flows directly to the Global Fund.  You can always see updated figures of what money has come in here.  To re-emphasize, the money raised by (RED) and partners to date (in just nine months) is four times the amount of private sector dollars they’ve received in the first five years of the fund.

3)  It is important to note that the money is given by the company, NOT the consumer.  For example, the RED NANO and the non-red Nano are the same price.  When a consumer purchases a RED NANO, it doesn’t cost more, but it triggers the company to contribute $10 to the Fund.  The (RED) products give consumers an option to make shopping choices that will make a difference.  (RED) is one more tool for consumers to make a difference, it doesn’t replace other avenues such as volunteering, donating or lobbying your government.  We think it is great to donate directly.  But, if you need a t-shirt, an ipod or a phone, you know you can buy a (RED) one and even more money will go to the Fund. 

In response to the site:  Overall, we generally support anything that will drive more contributions to the Global Fund. However, it is unfortunate that this organization is working against another initiative vs. simply promoting the fact that you can contribute to the Global Fund at any time here.  The overall total to the Global Fund will be larger with many campaigns focused on generating contributions vs. one campaign using its energy to work against another.


Thanks Ben and Julie for all your responses.  FYI there is still more over at Marketing Profs too. 



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