Business·Analysis

Brands promote causes while boosting their own bottom line

When brands promote the good they're doing rather than simply pursuing sales, that's known as "cause marketing."

Ads promoting worthy causes distract consumers from the fact it's a sales job

Tide printed racial slurs on T-shirts in ketchup and then had people wash away the offensive language. (courtesy Procter & Gamble)

When brands promote the good they're doing rather than simply pursuing sales, that's known as "cause marketing."

Here's a commercial that's been running for the past few years.

The ad suggests that by buying Always, you can help African girls go to school.

But what happens when you buy Cheerios?

This 2015 ad shows a succession of active girls with type that says, "She will never care about the numbers because she will never diet."

Go Girls is a General Mills initiative that encourages girls to resist the urge to diet. Yet, the same General Mills makes low-calorie, artificially sweetened Yoplait Source yogurt.

Of course, the reason these corporations are so eager to tell us about the good they're doing is because millennials prefer to buy from altruistic companies. 

In this 2015 ad from Singapore, we see employees of Soap Ministry creating bars of soap which reveal the message "Check Breasts" as the soap wears away.

Obviously, all of these ads are designed to sell products as well as create an altruistic image. One particularly heavy-handed example of that is this recent U.S. ad.

Greenlight A Vet is a Walmart initiative which the retailer has been promoting heavily. There's no reason to doubt Walmart's commitment to vets. But there's no denying the benefits to Walmart itself, which sells the green light bulbs, a colour not easily found elsewhere.

And if the profit from several million light bulbs isn't enough, there's the profit potential from all those extra visits to Walmart, as well as the loyalty of vets.

In this U.S. video from Tide, we see Hispanic people talking about the degrading names they get called. Tide takes those names and prints them on T-shirts using ketchup. Then the same people are invited to launder the shirts so the names disappear, and presumably, so does racism.

Just having people talk about racism is moving enough, so why print the words on T-shirts? Because Tide is a laundry detergent, of course. Why print the words using ketchup? Because Tide removes tough stains. But we're distracted from all this blatant product hucksterism by seeing real people tear up when discussing racism.

That made the video so compelling it drew over six million viewers who may just go out and buy detergent.

Let's face it, if any of these corporations' primary goal was simply to do good, they could have made a donation and kept quiet about it. Or they could have made a promo for the charity with no corporate content at all. Instead, they spend millions promoting their own goodness, which leaves less money to help charities do good.


Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio. 

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