American Consumer Project

Trying to Decide on a Cause-Marketing Category? Consumer Location is Key

The Biggest Difference Among Community Giving Is Where the Money Goes.

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Purpose marketing, cause marketing -- the phrases are among the biggest buzzwords in the industry today, and with good reason.

Credit: David Flaherty

Cause-related spending by marketers is projected to grow 3.1% this year, to $1.7 billion, according to the 2012 Sponsorship Report by IEG Consulting, a Chicago firm that helps brands and organizations find the right sponsorship partners. Add in spending on the arts, festivals and associations, and you're looking at nearly $4 billion in spending -- more than three times what eMarketer projects will be spent on mobile advertising.

Eighty-three percent of Americans say they wish brands would support causes, and 41% have bought a product because it was associated with a cause. That figure has doubled since 1993, according to the 2010 Cause Evolution Study from Cone.

Luckily for marketers, finding the right partners is getting easier, with the burden shifting toward nonprofits. Organizations are getting much more sophisticated in their pitches, offering brands detailed psychographic information, according to Stacey Goldberg, senior director-client leadership at IEG Consulting Group.

That said, marketers, take note: Not all causes are equal in the eyes of consumers. Some communities are concerned about saving the local theater, while others care about protecting the local watershed.

How Different County Types Gave
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Experian Simmons created a baseline for charitable contributions nationally and looked at how each of the Patchwork Nation county types performed compared with that baseline.

Looking at these donation patterns and the value judgments they represent, you can see the challenges a marketer might have in creating a national cause-marketing plan. Environmental causes or public media may help win support in one area, but lose it in others.

For the past 15 years, General Mills has in some ways split the difference with its Box Tops for Education program.

"Smart brand managers care about what their customers care about," said Program Director Zack Ruderman. Education is a key issue for moms, so it's a natural fit as a cause. But since schools are local, General Mills has a national campaign that essentially drafts 70,000 volunteer brand ambassadors. The ambassadors are given the freedom to target the giving to the programs that will resonate at the local school level -- it could be science-lab equipment in one community or football uniforms in another.

When it comes to "who gives most?" the answer is probably not surprising. If you want to give, it helps if you have more to begin with, and the Monied Burbs have the most. The Burbs, the wealthiest of Patchwork Nation's community types, outperformed the others in likelihood to give.

But considering the differences in median household income in the counties, there aren't huge contrasts in amounts given. There is only a slight disparity between the county type that gives the most, the Burbs (about 72% of such counties have given to a charity in the previous 12 months), and the one that gives the least, Minority Central (about 62%), the least-wealthy county type.

The bigger differences are in where the money goes, and the numbers make the country's cultural and political divides more obvious.

For instance, the wealthy and educated Monied Burbs and the collegiate Campus and Careers counties shared many traits. They were the biggest givers overall and were high above average for giving to almost every kind of charitable group. The exeception was religious organizations, for which they ranked average.

And the Burbs and Campus counties were far above average with donations to two organizations that capture a lot of attention in Washington: public radio and public TV. In areas such as this, Howard County, Md. and Champaign County, Ill., respectively (where Ad Age is tracking representative families for this project), underwriting broadcasts from the local NPR or PBS could work well to reach the right customers.

The numbers in those places also stood in direct contrast to the donations from the socially conservative Evangelical Epicenter counties. The Epicenters have lower-than-average median household income and are below average in every area of giving except for religious organizations. This is something Patchwork Nation has seen in visits to Evangelical Epicenters such as Nixa, Missouri. In Nixa County, "taking care of one's own" often means caring for the members of a congregation.

Meanwhile, people in the Epicenters feel differently about giving to public media. Evangelical Epicenters and Minority Central tied as the furthest below average in contributing to NPR.

The differences extend beyond public media and religion. The Burbs and Campus counties overperform donations in many areas: arts, culture and the humanities; the environment; and social services and welfare.

The differences in donation patterns are not just cultural and political. Some are about the particulars of who live there. For instance, the aging Emptying Nest counties are above average on giving to health organizations. And some places defy categorization. Agricultural Tractor Country counties, which are very conservative politically, give to all kinds of organizations close to the national average -- except public radio, where they are far below.

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Dante Chinni is director of the Patchwork Nation project and co-author of the book "Our Patchwork Nation."

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