Firm News

Taking a stance with cause-based marketing

July 13, 2018

Why taking a stance on issues beneficial for some companies but not all

Should brands declare their side on important issues in today’s highly charged social and political climate? The answer may surprise you. A recent study found that 66 percent of consumers wish that brands took a stance on important issues. This reflects an overall trend: today’s consumers want to know what brands stand for in order to “vote with their wallet” and support companies with beliefs similar to their own.

In such turbulent times, it makes sense that many now want to align their consumption habits with their own values. They know that by supporting the company, they are helping a good cause. This is the idea of cause-sumption: people, especially millennials, want to consume things that allow them to express their opinions and make them feel like they’re doing something good for the world.

However, when brands publicly take sides on an issue, they risk alienating consumers who may not support their message. Cause marketing is often a gamble: while it can engender brand loyalty, there will always be portion of an audience that will stand in opposition. Additionally, there is always the potential that your message or goal is misinterpreted, which could also turn off potential consumers.

While cause-based marketing initiatives can draw in more support, they can also have a polarizing effect when initiatives are not well-thought out. Here are just a few examples of companies taking a public stance as part of their marketing:

Airbnb During the 2017 Super Bowl, Airbnb used their commercial to take a stance on immigration policy. This was the beginning of their #WeAccept campaign. "Not allowing countries or refugees into America is not right, and we must stand with those who are affected,” said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. In addition to public media statements, the company has put effort into the cause through providing short-term housing for people in need and donating to the International Rescue Committee. The initiative was well received both by the tech community and the general public. By aligning their goals and company mission, AirBnB was able to successfully leverage cause-marketing to share their values with consumers.

Patagonia: Another successful use of cause-based marketing was done by outdoor retailer Patagonia. In December 2017, the Patagonia home screen was replaced with a black screen that read “The President Stole Your Land.” There were no Patagonia products on the website for purchase, just information on the reduction of national landmarks and a call to action for consumers to share their views with government representatives. For a company like Patagonia, taking a dramatic stance in favor of environmental conservationism allowed the company to “put its money where its mouth is” in the eyes of its most loyal consumers.

Lush: Lush U.K., however, did not have as much success when they began their #SpyCops campaign on June 1, 2018. A previously existing campaign, the initiative gained more publicity upon Lush getting involved. According a press release from the company, it was meant to “raise awareness of the ongoing undercover policing scandal, where officers have infiltrated the lives, homes and beds of activists.” Critics, however, pointed out that the campaign was disrespectful of many police officers who have nothing to do with unethical investigations. Because the campaign message was not clear enough, it remained controversial and misunderstood by the general public.

Pepsi: Similarly, in April 2017, Pepsi was highly criticized for their “Kendall Jenner for PEPSI” advertisement. A case of poor timing and misleading messaging, the ad was released at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. The ad portrayed a group of protesters and a line of police officers, panning to feature Kendall Jenner handing one of the smiling officers a can of Pepsi. Many people argued that this ad downplayed the real struggle of activism, therefore trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement by insinuating all could be solved with a can of soda. In the end, the company was forced to release the following apology: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize.”

While cause-based marketing is a great strategy for some, it also has many pitfalls if initiatives aren’t carefully planned and executed. If you or your brand choose to take a stance on an issue, be sure to follow these tips in order to make your campaign as successful as possible:

1. Choose an issue that is relevant to your brand and to current events. Consider the timing of your initiative and the climate in which it will be released.

2. Think about who your core group of consumers is and how they would react. There will always be a few people who don’t agree with you, just make sure that this group doesn’t make up the majority of your current consumer base.

3. Make sure the stance matches your company’s values. If you don’t appear authentic, then consumers will not take you seriously.

Robin Bosh is an Intern at Bond Moroch.