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The Holidays are Here, and So is Cause Marketing

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Mary Plessas

Well, Halloween is behind us, but what’s really scary is the onslaught of holiday advertising now appearing. Marketers everywhere concerned with breaking through all the clutter are increasingly turning to cause-related marketing to set their clients apart. Cause marketing, in which a for-profit company teams with a non-profit organization, benefits a brand by generating goodwill and benefits the cause by increasing awareness and, usually, raising funds.

Coca-Cola is using a cause marketing approach in its newest holiday campaign, Arctic Home, which will support the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) polar bear conservation efforts.

I have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for Coca-Cola’s advertising at this time of year. I fondly remember the “I’d like to teach the world to sing” campaign from when I was a child, and I can hear the song in my head as I type. Santa Claus has also been featured for years and years enjoying a Coke, with almost a Norman Rockwell feeling.

This year’s holiday campaign is quite a departure from Coca-Cola’s past nostalgic tone. The tie-in with polar bears is a natural fit, as the creatures have also appeared in holiday ads through the years. In fact, an ad featuring animated polar bears and dancing penguins was the most-liked TV spot in November 2005, according to IAG Research. The new campaign, though, uses beautiful, touching footage of real polar bears in their natural habitat from the upcoming film, “To the Arctic” (Warner Bros. Pictures).

This is not the first time Coca-Cola has worked with the WWF. In 2007, the company committed $20 million to promote water conservation and to protect sections of major rivers in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. But do these efforts really make up for all the negatives associated with bottled water? Granted, the Coca-Cola Company seems sincere in trying to improve its corporate social responsibility, but how significant is the $2 or $3 million that the company has committed to the polar bear conservation effort? Of course, the point is to encourage consumers to make donations directly to the WWF, but according to an article that appeared in Forbes earlier this year, cause marketing can backfire. Research shows that consumers often prefer a brand attached to a good cause, benefitting the brand. Unfortunately, it also seems that people who buy a “good” product may feel justified in giving less to charities.

Certainly Coca-Cola is a master marketer (named "marketer of the year" by AdAge) with a massive advertising budget, and so the chances are high that the campaign will be a success for both the company and the WWF. Let’s hope that’s the case, so the polar bears don’t become as fictional as Santa Claus.

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