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The Impact of Cause Marketing on Consumer Behavior and Brand Messaging

July 18th, 2012
In today’s fierce marketplace, cause marketing isn’t just an altruistic endeavor, it’s good business. By demonstrating that their actions and intentions will contribute in some way to the betterment of society, many brands are establishing themselves as philanthropic players in their industries, which leads to positive brand image in the eyes of consumers. Not surprisingly, Trend Hunter has seen cause marketing appearing in branding efforts across all industries, whether a company promises to donate part of its profits to a charity or decides to undertake a social initiative on its own. To the extent that it affects consumer behavior, much research has been conducted to find out whether cause-related marketing actually influences the way consumers perceive brands.

Consider the 2008 study conducted by Cone Inc. and Duke University. The study tested the actions of 182 consumers, who were asked to look at one of two advertisements for one out of four brand categories. One advertisement was a typical corporate ad, while the other provided information about a brand’s relation to some cause. The participants were then given real money and instructed to shop at a mock store that offered products from the brands to which they were just exposed. The study found that in the cases where a brand was associated with a cause-related message, there was an increase in actual purchases. One category—shampoo—even saw a 74 percent increase in purchases for the brand that was associated with a good cause.

According to Gavan Fitzsimons, a marketing professor at Duke and the study’s lead researcher, “…consumers are paying more attention to cause messages, and as a result, are more likely to purchase. This is clearly great news for brand managers, as every percentage increase can translate to millions of dollars in revenue.”

Cause marketing and its ability to sway consumer decision-making is further highlighted by another 2008 Cone study that uncovered the extent to which today’s consumers are receptive to cause marketing messages. For example, a whopping 85 percent of the participants claimed that they would view a product or brand more positively when it supports a cause they care about, and 79% stated that they would probably switch brands (price and quality being equal) if one of the brands was affiliated with a good cause.

With evidence to suggest that people today are definitely more willing to buy from companies that partake in socially responsible activities, brands are scurrying to include cause-related promotions in their campaigns. Trend Hunter has seen a plethora of big brands try their hand at different social initiatives, from Puma’s cancer research-supporting campaigns and fair trade products to Starbucks’ Indivisible campaign, which focuses on social issues, like unemployment and low-income housing, in the United States. Not surprisingly, social businesses like TOMS Shoes have exploded around the world, and brands previously attacked for lack of social responsibility have put forth campaigns to counter this notion. McDonald’s, for example, has spent millions on campaigns of this nature, including its ‘Come As You Are’ publicity stunt that celebrates diversity, its book-giveaway literacy program in the UK, and its ‘A to Z’ commercial, which demonstrates the fast food chain’s support of the local community and the environment.

Cause marketing certainly plays a role in consumer perception and purchasing behavior, thereby pushing more brands to spend time and effort in developing social programs. Discover more trends related to cause marketing by accessing Trend Hunter’s PRO Trends database, and download our Marketing Trend Report and Social Good Trend Report to find out the changes affecting today’s business landscape.
References: trendhunter