How Marketers Can Cut Through Cause Clutter

Women at NBCU: Seven Steps for Reaching Female Consumers

By Published on .

Maryam Banikarim
Maryam Banikarim
After the recent economic downturn, it comes as no surprise that consumers are looking for value in the marketplace but not necessarily value in terms of price. Today, consumers are looking to purchase products with a greater social benefit, whether that means a portion of the proceeds is donated to charity or the product itself is made of sustainable packaging.

Marketers have clearly jumped on this trend: Grocery store aisles are lined with products tied to a cause or pro-social initiative. Take household-cleaning products, for example. Consumers are bombarded on a daily basis with eco-friendly choices from Arm & Hammer Essentials, Clorox Green Works, 7th Generation, Nature's Source and Tide Coldwater.

With so many choices and a saturation of "do-good" messages, how do marketers cut through the clutter? Women at NBCU last fall conducted a proprietary study, "Cause & Effect," to help answer this question. The results of the online survey of 815 adults 18 to 54—399 men and 416 women, including 254 moms—show that cause marketing is here to stay and that it is not a passing trend. While it's true that men also respond to pro-social messages, women—and moms with young children in particular—still outrank them in this category (82 percent vs. 71 percent).

Key takeaways from our study on how to effectively leverage cause marketing with the female consumer include:

  • Make it simple: 86 percent of women say they are more inclined to purchase a product tied to a cause if there is a clear and easy way to get involved. As one female survey respondent put it, "I hate when you buy the product and nothing happens unless you do something. Buying it should be enough." Bottom line: Consumers are receptive to products that allow them to swipe their American Express cards and feel good.
  • Make it quantifiable: As marketers, we need to quantify the individual impact of each purchase and make that sure the consumer understands that. The FEED Foundation has effectively zeroed in on this, feeding the world one bag at a time. FEED offers tote bags for sale online and through the Gap. Every FEED bag comes with a massive hangtag that shows the number of meals donated with each purchase. In addition, FEED displays a running tally on its website of meals provided for every bag sold. This is a visually effective way to provide consumers with assurance that their money is being well spent.
  • Make it family-friendly: For many women—and moms in particular—social concerns (whether the environment, education or health) are driven by concerns about future generations. General Mills' Box Tops for Education initiative hits this sweet spot. Moms are happy to purchase Cheerios, which not only supports their children's education but also offers an easy way for a child to get involved in the cause.
  • Leverage the power of positive brand equity: Few would have imagined that the makers of bleach could successfully launch an eco-friendly cleaning product. But Clorox Co. used something else in its favor: its brand association with products that actually work. Having the Clorox name alongside its Green Works line was proof that the product was reliable. A trusted household brand holds weight for the eco-consumer.
  • Be your own brand ambassador: Companies need to promote their own corporate social responsibility in order to earn public trust. In our study, 46 percent of consumers (and 42 percent of moms) said they are skeptical of claims made by companies with corporate/nonprofit social partnerships. Subaru wisely points out in its new TV ad campaign that it has a plant in Indiana that puts nothing into a landfill.
  • Make it organic to your brand: Marketers must ask themselves, "How close is the cause to my brand and how close is my brand to the consumer?" Recognizing that 44 percent of its fan base is comprised of women (85 million), the NFL embraced breast-cancer awareness, with its players decked out in pink helmets and cleats in October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But it wasn't just about "pinking" the game. It was about driving home the importance of annual screenings for women 40 and older throughout game commentary.
  • Make it entertaining: 15 percent of consumers claimed they learned about pro-social messages from a plotline in a TV program. As one respondent in the survey commented, "When a TV show's content naturally overlaps with a social cause, when that's part of the writer/creator's vision, when the passions of the people involved with the show are engaged, that's some of the best television ever."

Maryam Banikarim is senior VP-integrated sales marketing for NBC Universal. As part of this role, she spearheads marketing for Women at NBCU, Green Is Universal and Healthy at NBCU.
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