A golden age of cause-related marketing

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Before we start, let’s get one potentially confusing thing out of the way, involving the initials CRM. While in the world of communication they are often used to mean Customer Relationship Marketing, they can also stand for Cause-Related Marketing. Although some people prefer to use CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) to avoid this issue, there is a fundamental difference between communicating your ethics as a company and launching genuine marketing campaigns linked to social or environmental causes. The latter has roots that go back several decades, but it seems to be enjoying a golden age in the wake of the digital revolution, and in recent years it has grown into a major international trend. Let’s start off by clarifying the intrinsic difference between CSR and CRM.

• CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)

For any business – big or small – corporate social responsibility involves responsible management of the impact its goods or services have from a social, human and environmental perspective. This has also become institutionalised in the world of communication over the last few years, and it is now an essential part of any company’s narrative: there tends to be a section dedicated to it on every corporate website, as well as a few inevitable paragraphs on the final pages of reports and brochures. You know the kind of thing: environmental certification, use of renewable energy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and so on and so forth.

• CRM (Cause Related Marketing)

Unlike CSR, this is not an institutional activity that takes place within a business. Instead it is a proactive decision to embrace social or environmental causes that a company makes voluntarily, either in partnership with various associations, or completely independently. Let’s make things clearer with a few examples:

Lacoste. Endangered animals stealing the crocodile’s glory

One of the most famous recent examples of CRM, which gained worldwide acclaim and won numerous prizes, was the campaign the Paris-based communication agency BETC developed for the brand Lacoste, dedicated to the cause of protecting animals at risk of extinction. Lacoste produced a series of limited-edition polo shirts with the famous crocodile sewn onto the fabric replaced by endangered animals, with the number of each garment produced proportional to the number of that animal remaining on Earth. All proceeds from sales went to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), which has been safeguarding the rarest species on the planet since its foundation.

This is an excellent example of CRM, as it is in line with Lacoste’s values (it has been tackling the issue of fake versions of its famous logo for years) and satisfies the heightened awareness of today’s consumers, who demand a certain degree of environmental sensitivity from fashion brands. I find it particularly interesting how, while in general exclusivity and green ideas are seen as incompatible, in this CRM project the exclusive chance to obtain an extremely limited-edition polo shirt is associated with the satisfaction that comes from helping the planet. As a result, Lacoste has increased its reputation amongst its traditional audience, but also garnered new appeal for younger generations, who are famously more interested in environmental issues.

Ikea. Open to new ideas, including when it comes to disability

Ikea has always been very clever in its marketing. After a renowned CRM project that aimed to raise awareness among its customers regarding the everyday lives of Syrians tormented by war, it recently won an award at the Cannes Lions Grand Prix 2019 for an extremely perceptive idea.

The Swedish brand has developed a series of components, printable in 3D directly in store, which can be added to the furniture in the catalogue  to make them accessible and easy to use even for people with serious disabilities. The project, named THISABLE, is fully aligned with the brand’s aim to ‘democratise design’, because it will allow many people to avoid buying specialist disabled furniture, which tends to cost a lot of money.

Ichusa and Corona. When beer turns green

Italy is no stranger to this trend either. Corona recently launched a special operation in the Navigli district of Milan, in partnership with the creative minds at Parley, involving a large wave made of plastic, with a poster behind it stating: ‘Non c’è posto per la plastica in paradiso’ (‘There’s no room for plastic in paradise’). Completing the initiative was a special desk, where visitors could receive a coupon for a free beer in exchange for a recycled plastic bottle. The project was launched by someone who has always dedicated a lot of effort to causes of this type: Lorenzo Cherubini, better known as the singer Jovanotti.

And while Corona focused on recycling, Ichnusa was not going to be left behind. The brand, now owned by the Heineken group, sought to strengthen its regional identity with a CRM initiative designed especially for Sardinia, involving a complete relaunch of the deposit-refund system and communicated through green bottle tops featuring the unmistakable shape of the island. This will allow the same bottle to be reused for up to 20 years, significantly reducing the company’s environmental impact.

Absolut. A discrimination-free spirit

Another very recent campaign, exclusive to Italy, came courtesy of the multinational brand Absolut. Since Italian adjectives usually distinguish between masculine and feminine through their final vowel (-o for the former, -a for the latter), and Absolut does not end with a vowel at all, the marketing project embraced the cause of Pride in Milan and the LGBT community by inviting people, with tongue firmly in cheek, to leave the final letter off various words.

Through the slogan ‘Sei tu a scegliere chi sei. Questo è il punto.’ (‘It’s up to you to choose who you are. That’s the point.’) the brand openly declared its support for those campaigning for gender equality and the recognition of their rights.

CRM. Three key advantages of cause-related marketing

We’ve reached the end of our brief journey through some of the most recent and successful examples of CRM across the world, and the things that set it apart from the more traditional, ongoing and institutionalised activities typically seen when espousing corporate social responsibility. You may now be asking yourself whether a cause-related marketing campaign could benefit your company, and what the main advantages are. Here are three for starters:

1. Reconnect with your audience and reach new customers

The current climate, where information spreads quickly and widely on all manner of topics, including the impacts of firms’ production, has led to clear growth in the average level of awareness of environmental and social topics. Companies may find that entering the fray and making an effective contribution to a cause is more effective than traditional advertising, as it helps to strengthen relationships with their consumers and reach new generations, who place a lot of importance in these values when choosing a product or service.

2. Earned media. Receive free, unplanned air time

This is another key advantage of CRM – when a company embraces a social or environmental cause, the media often show an interest. Given the reach of these activities, it is not uncommon for them to become news items, and so end up as the subject of radio and TV reports, newspaper articles, blog posts and other websites. In the trade, this is known as earned media, as the attention has not been paid for. Often a single action, perhaps in a single city, can grab so much attention from the media that it achieves a reach that a traditional, planned advertising campaign could only achieve at an exorbitant cost.

3. Maintain your reputation

Last but not least, as they say. In today’s world, a firm’s reputation is one of the key aspects that determines its success. Reiterating its commitment to corporate social responsibility is an excellent idea, but often this is not enough to make an impact – it is now considered essential, and will not always succeed in grabbing the attention of your audience. That’s why planning a cause-related marketing project can be useful, because it surprises, arouses the interest and involves the public in a new and significant activity that often generates positive conversations online and therefore helps to bolster the brand’s reputation.

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