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Who is cause marketing really benefitting?

I’m probably pretty close to the last person on earth that you’d expect to be working in marketing. Well, maybe not the last person on earth, but I’ll be one of the first to admit that numbers, goals and business strategy sometimes escape me. Yet, I work in marketing and I work confidently in marketing because I’m confident in World Vision’s stewardship. Sometimes I tell myself that I am able to do my job because, at the end of the day, I know that the school I work with who reaches their fundraising goal for the 30 Hour Famine or the presentation I do about poverty and global citizenship doesn’t mean that my paycheck (or anyone’s paycheck for that matter) will be any bigger that week. I know, as simple as this may sound, that it means more money goes to the children.

I understand cause marketing to be a partnership between a nonprofit organization and a for profit business in which each group benefits. It seems like both win; charities raise more money for those in need from increased promotion and businesses benefit from communicating to their clients that they value more than their profit. I admit that I buy into this. Literally. I’m more likely to support a business or buy a product from which I know a portion of proceeds will support a charity, buy anti-retroviral medications or whatever the cause may be. I’m more likely to pick up the yogurt container that’s pink in support of breast cancer research than the the one quickly expiring beside it on the grocery store shelf. There’s something in me to which this appeals. I like to see businesses involved in really impacting the world and I like to feel like I’m a part of that.

I recently read an article on cause marketing, specifically associated with pink packaging for breast cancer research, that gave me a little more insight on this phenomenon (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21272004/).

The article quotes Barbara Brenner, the executive director of a breast cancer action group, as saying, “Awareness, we don’t need any more of…We have plenty of awareness. The question is what we do now.”

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I think Brenner is asking the question of whether cause marketing is doing what it really needs to do. Is it simply getting a name or a label into the market and announcing the need or are there tangible results coming from this awareness beyond consumers having red or pink (or whatever the color may be) items in their closets, backpacks, cars and homes.

What is it in us, if anything, that makes cause marketing appeal to us so much? Are we using a cause for our own benefit, as an excuse to buy things that we wouldn’t normally buy, because we know it’s for charity? Is this an appropriate way to respond? Would we be better off simply writing a check to that very same charity for the amount we spent on the product or are we slowly changing consumer culture.

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