Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marketing Strategy : Branding With A Cause

Branding With a Cause

Originally Published here in

Last year, Colgate celebrated October as Oral Health Month. During the month, the company conducted free dental camps across the country in association with Indian Dental Association (IDA). Besides these camps, Colgate conducts regular Oral Hygiene awareness campaigns and oral health educational programs across India. These programs are conducted with the aim of achieving Colgate’s mission of Zero Tooth Decay in the country .

In December 2008, Nokia announced a unique initiative in India called the Take-Back Recycle initiative. Under this campaign, the brand intends to take back used/ damaged mobiles and accessories for recycling purpose. According to the company, consumers are not aware about the possibility of recycling such unused gadgets. These gadgets can create a huge environmental hazard in near future. Nokia, as a market leader is taking the initiative in creating awareness as well as create a green logistics framework to recycle this potential wastes.

There is no doubt that the primary objective of a brand is to make money for its owners. But there are brands which try to see higher level objectives for themselves. Broadly termed as Cause Branding or Cause Related marketing, these initiatives have long term impacts on brands which may not be visible in quantitative terms. Hence for those managers who view their brands’ performance on a quarterly basis will not find this strategy attractive.

Academic research has established that consumers may develop a unique positive association with companies that take efforts which are beyond economic transactions. Our very own Tata brand is proof of such a positive association. Tata brand is built not based on their products but based on their commitment to social responsibilities.

The question for marketers is whether to spend their precious resources on a non-profit cause which may not have a direct impact on profit or sales. In this era where brands are expected to be built in 3 months, this commitment may seem to be extravagant. But it is often forgotten that brands are seldom built over quarterly sales figures. It is built on the mind of the consumers. And consumers love brands which makes a difference to their lives.

Companies are often confused over the extent to which they should involve in cause related marketing. This has resulted in an unfocused erratic approach towards such initiatives. The short –term initiatives often referred to as Cause Marketing and high involvement activities where the firm or brand is highly involved is referred to as Cause Branding.

Cause Branding as a Strategy

There are two approaches to cause- related marketing .Firms can look at a short term association with a cause with minimum involvement. This can be in the form of a donation to a charity work.

HUL conducted such a short-term campaign for its Surf brand ( known as 10/10 contest ) where for a sale of every 1 kg pack, a fixed amount was donated to certain NGOs operating in the area of child-education for the deprived section of the society. These initiatives may give some positive responses to the brand for a short term.

Another approach is to take cause marketing as a long term brand building strategy. Global cosmetic major Avon has been associating with Breast Cancer Awareness programs since 1993. The brand has raised and contributed $500 millions in support for this cause. In India , HUL supports a long – term cause-branding initiative for its Lifebuoy brand ( Lifebuoy Swasthya Chetana) with the objective of spreading the awareness of importance of washing the hands with soap in rural India.

There is a big difference between these two approaches. Brands have a personality; brand is like a living being with a character and personality. The fact is that consumers are looking at a brand in its entirety – as a whole person. Hence it is important for marketers to take a long term view of Cause Related Marketing initiatives. This calls for a dedicated set of resources both money and men for such a venture.

Identifying a Cause

The success of a cause branding initiative depends heavily on the selection of the cause. An arbitrary one-time charity work is not going to give any positive impact on brand in the long term. Hence the selection of the cause will have to be done in the same seriousness as the selection of the positioning strategy.

The cause selected should appeal to the consumers of the brand and the cause should be relevant to the consumers. In the case of Colgate, oral hygiene and health is a cause that is highly relevant and connected to the brand. Hence such causes have more impact on building the brand’s image.

The cause selected should also make a difference in the society. In the long term, the initiative should be able to produce impactful results for the society.


Most of the cause- branding initiatives are done in partnership with NGOs who operate in that domain. It is important to partner with the right organisation for the implementation of the initiative. But often firms outsource the entire work to the NGOs thus effectively distancing themselves from the cause. It is important for a brand to fully involve in the cause. This could be done by encouraging the employees to offer their expertise or by creating a dedicated team of company professionals to monitor the implementation of these initiatives.


It is important for the brand to communicate this initiative through all possible avenues. Colgate runs a series of media campaigns for its Free Dental Camps and is supported by an exhaustive web-based informative page in their website. The Cause-Branding also gives the brand opportunity to experiment with a wide range of media vehicles to promote both the brand and the cause.

Walk the Talk

In this information intensive era, it is important for the brand to be truthful in its intensions while championing for a cause. Cause-Branding is a double-edged weapon. Consumers will evaluate such initiatives thread-bare to see whether the brand is taking them for a ride.

Hence consider cause-branding as an option only if the brand can sustain it till the cause is achieved. A half-hearted cause branding initiative will damage the brand‘s prestige. It is also imperative for the brand to convince the customer that these initiatives are not done for selfish motives alone.

This could be done only if the firm involves itself into the cause rather than just sponsoring it.