Cause-Related Marketing: Big Risks, Big Potential

By Shell, Adam | Public Relations Journal, July 1989 | Go to article overview

Cause-Related Marketing: Big Risks, Big Potential


Shell, Adam, Public Relations Journal


Cause-related marketing: big risks, big potential In a decided departure from sports-oriented and more traditional charitable sponsorships, large companies such as Reebok, Pepsi-Cola and Johnson & Johnson are spending millions of dollars to support human rights and other causes, and to fight social problems such as domestic violence and the high rate of dropouts in urban high schools. Often referred to as "cause-related marketing," this trend comes at a time when rising costs and increasing clutter are beginning to make CEOs wonder whether they're getting their money's worth from more traditional sponsorships.

Practitioners report that cause-related efforts are expensive and can be risky, but when handled carefully, can supply the best of all promotional worlds: higher visibility, a unique image niche resulting from association with worthy projects and stronger ties to the community. "What you're seeing now in sponsorships is companies finally supporting and promoting the core values they stand for," asserts Carol Cone, president of Cone Communications, the Boston-based public relations firm retained by Reebok International Ltd. last year when it underwrote the "Human Rights Now!" concert tour. The $10 million sponsorship, which included appearances by rock stars Sting, Tracy Chapman and Bruce Springsteen, helped focus much of the world's attention on human rights abuses.

In another marketing sponsorship, J & J's Personal Products Company has for the past three years sponsored a $1 million campaign to educate the public about the sensitive issue of domestic violence. And, in April, the Pepsi-Cola Company invested millions of dollars to start a pilot program, "The Pepsi Challenge," designed to give inner-city youths the incentive to stay in school. Beginning this year, the anti-dropout program enables each graduate to earn $500 for each year of high school completed, to be used for post-secondary education.

A value statement

Public relations professionals and other executives at the three companies say cause-related marketing is a unique and effective way to communicate their corporate values to the world. As with other sponsorships, these companies say, the primary objective is not to directly improve product sales. "The concert tour for human rights was intended to make a statement about who Reebok is and what we stand for," explains Angel Martinez, a Reebok vice president based in Los Angeles. "This was not a promotion in the traditional sense. We were looking for an issue or cause that everybody could feel strongly about. The tour was an extension of our value system as a company. We believe in freedom of expression and wanted to do something of importance, beyond selling sneakers."

Similarly, Johnson & Johnson, makers of feminine hygiene products, started its "Shelter Aid Program" because the cause was viewed as being consistent with its corporate philosophy, says Mava Heffler, director of public relations. The program offers the nation's only toll-free domestic violence hotline, funds domestic shelters, and spreads awareness about the issue of violence against women and children.

Pepsi became involved in its anti-dropout program, which will be tested in Detroit and Dallas, because company executives felt they had a responsibility to help young people further their education, says Stuart Ross, manager of public relations for Pepsi. …

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