Cause-related marketing and its discontents

Chances are you’ve noticed in the past few days a Gap store festooned in red (in contrast to its usual blue), and unless you live on Pluto you’ve doubtless noticed some store (grocery, department, auto-supply) garlanded in pink.  The first, it turns out, is in support of a campaign by the indefatigable Bono to secure additional corporate contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, while the second reflects the astonishing success breast cancer charities have had in securing public attention ("National Breast Cancer Awareness Month," anyone?) and corporate support for their cause.  And let no one doubt that feel-good capitalism (or charitable consumerism, or cause-related marketing) works: according to USA Today, less than $2 million worth of corporate support went to the Fund from the United Kingdom before the campaign, while contributions since its March launch exceed $10 million.  A five-fold increase in giving is more than a successful campaign; it’s a sea-change.

But–and you knew the Nonprofiteer was going to cavil because that’s what she does–the more successful this sort of high-profile, charity-as-fashion-statement effort is, the more difficult life becomes for charities without celebrity champions or poster-child appeal.  Try to imagine securing this type and extent of support for essential domestic social services: making birth control and abortion universally accessible, providing affordable housing, supplying elder care.  It’s no reproach to cause-related marketers that they’re unable to do everything; but the more successful they are, the more people are likely to wonder why they should ever have to make an effort or sacrifice to produce a charitable outcome.      

If we insist that giving to charity be packaged as chic or smart or elegant, we’ll soon wind up with charities primping rather than producing–because if they don’t, someone’s bound to decide that lack of money is actually their fault.  After all, if they were smart, wouldn’t they be rich?


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2 Responses to “Cause-related marketing and its discontents”

  1. Joe Waters Says:

    Check out my comments on this post at

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    One certainly should appreciate the positive aspects of cause-related marketing: I still shake my head in despairing disbelief when remembering a women’s organization which declined a department store’s offer to do a benefit sale and highlight the group in its windows, saying, “We’re not the kind of women who are about shopping.” The charities to whom these opportunities are available should grab them with both hands; I just want to make sure that charities without the necessary “coolth” (to coin a term) keep themselves focused on their audiences, that is, charitable individuals.

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