Real cause marketing

The driving force behind Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, Unilever's Sharon MacLeod, discusses the importance of authenticity.

Cause marketing usually annoys me.
Obviously my irritation is not based in a belief that brands should not benefit a cause. My life at Unilever has been all about great brands and great causes.
But consider those brands and causes for a moment.
When Dove launched the Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, first telling the world about its point of view on beauty and then creating the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, cause marketing was still in its infancy. But Dove was not an accidental tourist in the cause of real beauty.
Dove has used “Real Women” in advertising for years. Ogilvy Toronto became experts at shooting ads with real women instead of professional actors long before we created Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.
Dove came to the campaign with a long record of celebrating real women who take great care of themselves with quality products and an equally long record of using straightforward, honest language. It was perfectly natural for Dove to teach girls about media literacy so they could understand the myths around beauty advertising and build positive self-esteem.
The pieces all fit together with who Dove had always been.
Similarly Becel has always been a leader in heart-healthy living; it is a low-in-saturated-fats and trans-fat-free margarine. It is no surprise that Becel is recognized by the Heart and Stroke Foundation as a Heart Healthy product and it’s perfectly natural for Becel to be a part of the Ride for Heart. It’s who Becel is.
Or consider Hellmann’s commitment to the Real Food movement. Hellmann’s is made of eggs, oil and vinegar. Food doesn’t get more real than that. Local foods, urban gardens, real food and Hellmann’s are a perfect fit.
For each of these brands, the attachment to a great cause is more than a matter of convenience. The brand and the cause are intrinsically linked. No other brand could do what your brand is doing for the cause.
This is the first essential ingredient in cause marketing done well: a natural fit between the cause and the brand.
The second key ingredient is time. The Dove Self-Esteem Fund didn’t happen overnight. It was the natural outcome of years of hard work. And the commitment to Real Beauty is not a whim, it’s a long-term commitment. Effective cause marketing is based on a long, long, long-term relationship.
The third key ingredient is sweat equity. The Dove team personally delivers self-esteem workshops that have now reached over seven million young people around the world. Everyone at Dove has a personal story about their involvement in workshops and those experiences define who we are.
It isn’t hard to spot the Becel team.
They ride in the Ride for Heart, it isn’t just event management for them. That’s real sweat equity!
The point here is obvious; cause marketing done well becomes part of your company culture. At its best, it’s the perfect fit of cause and brand.
Unilever is hardly unique in its approach to cause marketing. Lots of other brands do it well.
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts stands out. The Four Seasons brand has a global reputation for grace, dignity, elegance and excellence. The brand, the building and the cause fit perfectly.
Tim Horton’s is community. You can’t drive through a community, big or small, without a Tim Horton’s. Who goes to the rink without a Tim’s? My nephew had to have a Tim’s soup after every game – even when the game ended at 9 a.m. So when Tim Horton’s supports children’s sports and sending underprivileged children to camp, the fit is perfect and the commitment is real.
So why does cause marketing annoy me?
Because most of the time the cause and the brand are about as connected as Jackie Onassis and punk rock.
Just think of any cause-based run or walk. Usually there is a space in the event title to “insert bank here.” You could change the name of the bank every year and no one would notice.
It’s nice when corporations give money to good causes. But without also investing the time to find a natural fit, the effort to build real relationships and the hard work to build sweat equity, it’s not cause marketing – it’s just lazy marketing.
Sharon MacLeod is the brand building director at Unilever Canada. She is best known for her expertise in consumer behaviour, her creativity, and as the driving force behind Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.