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Impactful Cause Marketing Campaigns without the Cliché

Dec 7, 2021

Written By
Kelly Criswell

It’s that time of year again. CPG brands are starting their Thanksgiving and Christmas buy one, give one blitzes online and in retailers nationwide. 

Your brand may have launched its own campaign this past month. And we don’t blame you. Cause marketing has proven to be effective. In fact, 70% of consumers are more likely to support brands that show long-term support for a cause. In other words, your cause marketing efforts can result in more loyal customers and bolster your brand’s image. Not to mention you’re supporting important charities. It’s a win-win-win, right? 

But there is one catch (as always). You can’t reap these cause marketing benefits for your food and bev brand unless your campaign is actually good. For many brands, it’s far too easy to wind up with cliché activations that don’t resonate with their target audiences. 

How do you avoid these missteps and launch a campaign that actually serves your brand, your consumer, and your cause? Keep these best practices in mind to serve as a gut check so you know you’re doing this whole cause marketing thing right. 

Choose a Cause that Aligns with Your CPG Brand’s Values

It’s a bad look (to say the least) if you opt to work with an organization dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion while your own organization employs far too few people of color. Or if you’re an alcohol brand that decides to donate to after-school care for kids. It just doesn’t match up. 

If your cause doesn’t align with your own values, you can say goodbye to those long-term customer relationships you’re hoping to establish. Consumers will see right through your inauthenticity. 

You have to work with an organization that aligns with your CPG brand’s values and perception in the marketplace. It’s even better if you can choose a charity that’s also related to your product in some way. A kid’s snack brand would be better off supporting after-school care than an adults-only alcohol brand, for instance. 
In the case of shopper marketing campaigns, your cause marketing should attempt to align with the retailer’s values as well. Say Kroger supports Feeding America during a back to school sale. It makes total sense for that same kid’s snack brand to participate in that push. 

When you align your cause marketing campaign with the retailer’s values, the retailer is likely to see you as a more valuable partner. Your campaigns — cause marketing and otherwise — have a better shot of being chosen to run in stores. More importantly, a well-aligned campaign looks more cohesive and convincing to consumers.
 

Mars Petcare executed a program at Walmart called “Extend a Paw.” They partnered with Greater Good Charities to feed undernourished pets. This cause marketing effort fits perfectly with Mars’ values and their target audience’s values. That’s the kind of synergy you should be after when considering causes for your campaigns. 

Form a Meaningful Relationship with the Organization You’re Supporting

One-time donations to a charity are great and helpful. But working alongside an organization for the long-haul is even better — for all parties involved. The charity or cause you choose will know they can count on your brand for consistent support. You’ll make a bigger difference through your commitment.

Consumers will also start to associate your brand with that charity because of your long standing partnership. You’ll gain much more respect and loyalty from your customers when they believe you genuinely care about that cause. This can do wonders for your brand’s equity and reputation.

Let’s put a fine point on it. When you choose to partner with the same organization over and over again, you’re forming more meaningful relationships with both that organization and your customers. 

Make Your Cause Marketing about More than Monetary Donations 

You have to contribute funds to the organization you’re working with. That’s a crucial component of cause marketing, after all. But to form those meaningful relationships (with the organization and consumers) we’ve been talking about, you need to go beyond money. 

As a large food and bev company, you have a lot of resources at your disposal. Donate your time by sending a team to help your partner organization serve meals at a soup kitchen or any other activity they need you for.
 

You can and should also leverage your own influence and platforms to spread the word about the organization you’re working with. Retweet their posts or let them take over your Instagram stories. The goal is to be a microphone for their mission. 

Don’t overlook donating goods as well. Kellogg’s completed a successful “Feeding Reading” back to school campaign at Kroger. Customers bought a product and got a free book, and another book was donated to local literacy programs. This obviously suits Kellogg’s target audience — kids — and matches their vision. But again, it proves your brand’s contributions don’t have to come in the form of monetary donations.

If you’re really committed to cause marketing, we’ll give you one final non-cash idea. Make your cause a part of your company’s ethos and social responsibility efforts. It goes back to being authentic. If you’re donating to an organization that helps people of color find jobs, for example, change your own hiring practices first. Walk the walk. 

Trash Tired Cause Marketing Activations in Favor of New Emotive Ones 

It’s all too easy to craft somewhat cliché cause marketing campaigns. One reason this happens is because CPG brands aren’t thinking outside the box when it comes to their activations. Their campaigns end up looking the same as every other brand’s cause marketing push. They just don’t catch consumers’ eyes in-aisle. 

This usually happens when CPG brands glom onto the same few causes. For example, breast cancer awareness is crucial, but everyone rolls out their pink packaging in October. As a result, consumers have become desensitized to it. 

This doesn’t mean you should stop supporting breast cancer awareness. It means you need to think of a new, emotionally-provocative activation for your campaign. One that stops consumers in their tracks — even in an all-pink aisle. 

As an alternative, you could try elevating lesser-known causes and charities with your cause marketing campaign. An organization like Feeding America is important, but can you support a local food bank near your company HQ instead? Bonus: Send your execs there to serve a meal!

Create Special Edition Packaging to Bring Even More Awareness to Your Cause

It’ll come as no surprise that special edition packaging will take your cause marketing campaign to the next level. 
First of all, different packaging will stand out on the shelves — even among your own products. And it’s all about catching consumers’ attention. Special edition packaging also reminds shoppers who they’re supporting with their purchase. It makes them feel like they’re making a bigger contribution to the cause. 

If possible, partner with creators and designers who belong to the group you’re trying to benefit. For instance, if you’re creating special edition packaging for Hispanic Heritage Month and donating funds to a Hispanic-led community organization, look to hire artists from within this community for packaging design. 

Kelloggs rolled out special edition packaging for Pride Month and partnered with a grocery chain to donate to GLAAD. This is a great example of how packaging can bring even more awareness to a cause and your campaign.  

Cause marketing is about creating an ecosystem that benefits everyone: Your brand, your customer, and most importantly, the cause itself. To actually see the benefits, you need to reassess your brand’s approach and figure out a way to stand out and catch the consumer’s eye. Thinking outside the box can be difficult, so let’s talk.

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