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B$Z: The Day Cause Marketing Died

September 9, 2010

The Day Cause Marketing Died
How to Keep Consumers From Getting Fed Up With Corporate Efforts
by Mike Swenson

The Day Cause Marketing Died by Mike SwensonIt was a cool and calm morning the day cause marketing died. Its demise went largely unnoticed by all the online news aggregators. The only remaining television news network, ACNBCNN, ran a feature reminding us that it had broken the news the previous year that cause marketing was doomed.

It seemed to happen so quickly. One day the marketplace was full of companies and nonprofits working together for the common good. And then it was over. The blame game is in full swing. Various theories are being debated as to what happened. But looking back, it seems clear why cause marketing died.

It wasn't a natural death. It was murder. The very people who created and nurtured cause marketing through the end of the 20th century and into this century lost control of it at some point. Cause marketing was turned over to the promotions departments of agencies and companies and morphed into something unrecognizable. Cause was no longer about unique engagements with consumers. It had become just another homogenized marketing program fighting to grab its share of the consumer dollar.

From the moment consumers awoke each day until they fell asleep at night, they were inundated with opportunities to give back every time they made a purchase. In between, regardless of what store they were in, point-of-purchase shelf talkers virtually screamed at consumers every 10 feet to buy this or that product and help this or that cause. Consumers were under siege at every checkout lane of every store they shopped to give a dollar for this or a dollar for that. With online shopping continuing to overtake old-fashioned retail, cause banner ad after cause banner ad intruded on that shopping experience as well.

How do we keep this scenario from happening? Those of us engaged in cause branding in 2010 can't conceive of its demise. But as true believers, we also must avoid being naive about practices that can erode its effectiveness as a brand builder and a vehicle for societal change. A recent unscientific poll conducted here on asked for our collective opinions about whether or not cause marketing was doomed because of overexposure to the consumer. A wide margin of those who responded said consumer fatigue was going to happen. Are they right, or were they just the usual vocal minority of people who find it easy to criticize without offering suggestions?  Continue...