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Top 10 Cause Marketing and Corporate Responsibility Trends of 2011

3p Contributor | Monday December 19th, 2011 | 0 Comments

By Sarah Kerkian

At Cone Communications, we spend the entire year tracking cause marketing and corporate responsibility (CR), and between shark fin soap and $3,500 sneakers for a cause, we’ve seen it all. Below, we reveal our top 10 cause marketing and CR trends of 2011.

Get Green: Don’t be mistaken, we’re not talking environment – we mean money, the other green thing that is imperative for companies to protect. Economic development is the leading issue consumers want companies to address, and several organizations have taken heed. Among the leaders in this area, Starbucks has worked to reinvigorate the economy through its Create Jobs for USA campaign, while Chipotle has enlisted the help of Willie Nelson and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O to support America’s small farms.

No Bully: Anti-bullying efforts took center stage in cause marketing this year as organizations stepped up to address this tragic trend and to ask all of us to take a stand. P&G’s Secret Mean Stinks campaign empowered young women through a partnership with Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center and by creating a Facebook community to encourage women to stand up to “stinky” behavior. Cartoon Network and a host of other media brands joined the bullying battle by asking consumers to take a pledge to “Stop Bullying: Speak Up” via a Facebook app.

Limited Edition: A number of well-known brands are designing special products all in the name of a cause (think white cans or shark fin soap), and the fact that they are only around for a short time makes them even more appealing. Nike took things way back when it hosted a 10-day eBay auction of 1,500 pairs of limited edition 2011 Nike shoes inspired by the movie “Back to the Future II,”  ultimately raising $4.7 million for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Every Penny Counts: Some brands hope a little penny-pinching will go a long way to help a cause. It may be small change, but when multiplied by the millions of products sold and consumers engaged, these companies think donating pennies just makes sense. And to bring the point home, JCPenney’s Pennies From Heaven campaign raised $1 million this year, while Walgreens Way to Well* raises up to $3 million annually.

Zero Down: It may only take a penny for some causes, but the bar is being set even lower for a few organizations – in a positive way, of course. A number of organizations are zeroing in on impact as they pledge to cut their emissions, end diseases or otherwise achieve large social and environmental goals. Nissan went nil with the futuristic game, The Planet Zero, where players must achieve zero emissions to move on. At the end of each level, players learn an environmental fact to help them on their own personal environmental missions.

CR Kumbaya: The fact is, most CR issues extend beyond one company. Coalitions are a powerful way to address issues, so much so even direct competitors are uniting around their biggest challenges and encouraging consumers to join in. In the spirit of collaboration, Dell, Sprint and Sony have promoted environmentally sound management of used electronics through an EPA industry partnership. Bosch Home Appliances, Kohler, Lowe’s and P&G have also recently joined forces with the EPA’s WaterSense program to launch Wasting Water is Weird, a program that asks consumers to cut out their water-wasting habits.

Get Real: There’s a reason the phrase “walk a mile in their shoes” is such a common idiom – it’s the best way to truly understand circumstances outside your own experiences. It’s also a powerful way for organizations to bring their audiences even closer to the causes that matter. Liz Claiborne is helping parents understand the true nature of a negative teen relationship through its “Love is Not Abuse” campaign, which lets parents sign up for an app that will send them a succession of controlling and harassing calls, texts and emails from a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” And Nature Valley* is helping everyone to experience our nation’s national parks by sending teams of videographers to capture the best of the parks, then sharing the footage online through the National Parks Project.

Retail Therapy: This year, leading apparel brands are trying to get consumers to think differently – very differently – about how they buy and care for their clothes, all in the name of sustainability. It’s not often you’ll find a brand willing to tell its consumers not to buy its products. But that is exactly what Patagonia has done with its compelling Don’t Buy This… ads. In turn, Patagonia promises to build useful products that last and implores consumers to only buy what they really need. In another unexpected marketing message, Levi’s is asking consumers to freeze jeans instead of washing to kill odor-causing bacteria and conserve water.

Good.0: Few of us could operate without key websites in our day-to-day lives, and these companies believe the same goes for our nation’s nonprofits. So they are putting their tech savvy to work for social good. Google is lending a helping hand to nonprofits with its “Google for Nonprofits” program, which gives approved organizations free or discounted Google apps, advertising and much more. Similarly, Craigslist is bringing attention to a variety of causes, from veterans’ issues to technology for social good through its “craigconnects” program.

Next Gen: Move over moms, cause marketers have set their sights on the next generation. Brands are inviting kids, young and old, to join them in their do-good efforts. Burger King, for one, has taken cause crowdsourcing to the kiddies. As part of its BK Crown program, children can help Burger King choose which cause to support in the areas of wildlife, environment and education. Children can also reduce and reuse with free lunch bags redeemed after the purchase of specially marked products through the Kids Konserve campaign, a partnership between Annie’s Homegrown, Stonyfield YoKids and Seventh Generation.

* Cone client example

Visit Cone Communications’ website for our 2011 cause marketing and CR trends and a complete list of examples.

Sarah Kerkian tracks trends as the Insights Supervisor for Cone Communications, a public relations and marketing agency specializing in cause branding and corporate responsibility.


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