Breaking New Ground in Cause Marketing

This year marked the tenth year since I attended my very first Cause Marketing Forum, the leading U.S. conference on building mutually beneficial business and nonprofit partnerships. This year, I was struck by a clear and present theme of corporations supporting causes that simply would not have been on the table at my first CMF, back in 2006. Causes like equality, inclusion, respect, tolerance and unity. I’m so pleased and proud that our industry has evolved to support these social issues over the past decade.

CMF 2016 paved new ground for corporate citizenship, brand purpose and cause marketing. New ground beyond health, beyond heart disease or pediatric cancer, beyond education or classroom supplies, beyond the arts or active lifestyles. These are all still incredibly worthy causes with places for brands to play and important places in consumers’ hearts and minds.

But equality, inclusion, tolerance and respect. Issues like these may just go beyond people’s hearts and minds today. These causes may actually be the ones to move folks to action, to tap into their wallets, to spark their sharing. These issues are clearly striking a chord with consumers, and companies are smart to use their own assets and marketing firepower to spark and sustain that interest. In 2016, it’s not just citizens who get to talk about these issues, to care about these issues, but brands can too. Brands get to be bolder.

The first ad that really struck me as a kid — my first purpose-led marketing memory, really — is “I’d like to buy the world a coke.” Those smart writers at Mad Men knew exactly what they were doing ending the series last year, yet set in the 1970s, with this very purposeful nod to this ad campaign.

Because it seems we’re back there. Brands are going back there. Back to peace and harmony. In 1971 our country was reeling from Vietnam and making hard earned progress with regard to civil rights. Today, we face many similar issues, though in new forms like terrorism. Luckily, brands have more purposeful tools available beyond putting out inspiring jingles. With real programming, real partnerships and real fundraising behind this new movement toward peace and harmony, companies can make meaningful impact.

Brands today get to tackle LGBTQ rights. Aria Finger, the bright CEO of talked about millennials and their expectations of companies to tackle the issues they care about and face every day.

Brands today get to tackle the refugee crisis. Google didn’t necessarily decide one day that refugees were perfect new beneficiary audience to help, but it was an urgent crisis in their backyard, and their European employees demanded it – they ended up raising more than $10M in 10 days. The campaign clearly resonated with their searchers too.

Brands get to tackle unity, inclusion and respect. It doesn’t have to be as bold or uncharted as refugees. A seemingly traditional partnership between Special Olympics and Bank of America took on a more modern tone this year. Instead of focusing solely on the special Olympians’ experience at the games, they focused on connecting consumers and employees with the athletes in a shared demonstration of unity through their Pass the Torch campaign.

Brands get to inspire kindness. We heard from JetBlue’s head of corporate responsibility, who helped frame the company’s mission as simply “to inspire humanity.”

I was lucky to be joined at CMF 2016 by our client from Planet Fitness, and we spent some time reflecting together on these themes. Earlier this year, we launched the Judgement Free Generation, a pro-kindness, anti-bullying initiative that is a natural extension of their “Judgement Free Zone” philosophy for their gyms. It seems we were not only on-brand for this cause, but also on-trend. We are thrilled to be a part of the new movement toward unity and look forward to more clients and companies being so bold with us.

Anne Erhard, senior vice president, Business + Social Purpose.