Cause-Related Marketing: importance and perspectives

By John Dudovskiy
October 11, 2012

Cause-Related MarketingInitially it had been presumed that consumers simply wanted their products and services with no questions asked but as the case may be people began to peer behind the brand facades and discovered all sorts of things they didn’t like from environmental irresponsibility to exploitation of child labour consequently social and moral concerns began to firmly exist in traditional marketing terms (Mitchell 2007). As a result of this progression major developments in the form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) began to occur. CSR is defined as ‘recognising that companies have a responsibility to a range of stakeholder groups such customers, employees and suppliers (Adkins 2005).

Consumer reactions to CSR are not as straightforward as preferred with numerous factors affecting whether a firm’s activities translate into consumer purchases. Although people say that CSR matters in their purchase decisions, the reality is that customer responses to initiatives are not always consistent (Sen and Bhattacharya 2001). However over the past decade, CSR has gradually been integrated into the business activities of companies all over the world where businesses integrate social and environmental concerns into their corporate operations (Demetriou et al 2010). CSR allows businesses the opportunity to strengthen their corporate reputation and profitability by signalling to the various stakeholders with whom the organization interacts that it is committed to meeting its moral obligations. As a result, ‘many businesses have become more closely interrelated with society by focusing on charitable donations, corporate philanthropy, community participation, and Cause-related marketing’ (CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING ) (Demetriou et al 2010).

CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  as it is purposefully referred to involves partnering charitable causes with products for marketing programs (Chang 2009) and applying strategies to support these causes whilst building the business (Adkins 2005). Cause related marketing recognises the importance of an alliance between businesses and charitable organisations for the same goal (Clow and Baack 2005). The usage of cause-related marketing campaigns has therefore become one of the leading forms of corporate giving and is an important strategy for both brands and their cause partners (Edmondson and Lafferty 2007).

Consumer attitudes toward CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  represents a topic of considerable interest to both businesses and non-profit organizations (Webb & Mohr, 1998) with an increasing number of businesses realising the benefits that can be derived from cause-related marketing (CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING ). As a result it has vastly been adopted by businesses as a marketing tool to achieve their marketing objectives, by demonstrating a commitment to improving the quality of life in the communities in which they operate. (Demetriou et al 2010). ‘A good understanding of consumer attitudes toward CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  in different countries is essential to ensure that social marketers benefit from these corporate relationships. On the other hand differences in attitude toward CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  are also directly correlated with personal values, specifically with internal and external values’ (Lavack and Kropp 2003).

‘Consumers are deemed to respond more positively to marketing efforts, like celebrity endorsements and sponsorships, when the image of the sponsoring company or brand is compatible with the celebrity or sponsored event’ (Trimblet and Rifon 2006). Tesco, for example started computers for schools in 1992, with no other retailer having done anything of the sort previously. Various stakeholders from the government to customers to employees supported the concept. With the slogan ‘every little helps’ the concept has had a beneficial impact on Tesco’s profile by highlighting its special interest and care for education (Adkins 2005).

Many consumers believe that brands associated with a non-profit organization are superior to brands that are not tied to special causes (Clow and Baack 2005). This type of corporate or company altruism is based on the belief that consumers will purchase from companies who are willing to help a good cause. (Clow and Baack 2005). When price and quality are equal, more than 75% of consumers say they are likely to switch to brands or retailers using CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  programs (Cone, 1997). Over 90% of consumers believe it is important for marketers to seek out ways to become good corporate citizens (Krol, 1996).In contrast when the company supports an unrelated cause, consumers may feel the business is simply trying to benefit from the non-profit’s reputation. This may lead some consumers to stop buying the company’s products. (Clow and Baack 2005).

Furthermore consumers are becoming sceptical about the motives behind the increased emphasis being given to various charities. Although most people understand that a business must benefit from the relationship, they still tend to hold negative views when they believe that the business is exploiting a relationship with a non-profit organisation (Clow and Baack 2005). For instance, Reebok’s support of the Amnesty International “Human Rights Now!” tour was viewed by some as an indication of Reebok’s desire to promote human rights, but by others as only an attempt to enhance product sales (Elsbach and Sutton 1992; Quelch and HiHer 1988).

A study carried out by Lavack and Kropp (2003) with the use of a questionnaire provided to students across four countries namely Canada, Australia, Norway and Korea not only highlighted the differences in consumer attitudes towards Customer related marketing but the study was able to link the differences in attitudes to the personal values of the consumers. Evidently consumers in the different countries chosen were not equally supportive or accepting of CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING , for example the country less familiar with the concept paid less attention, such asKoreain comparison to consumers inCanada, who with a greater influence from the American Media showed a higher level of expectation from companies (Lavack and Kropp (2003). Therefore being able to measure the actual impact and results of these strategic positioning is equally as challenging as other marketing activities. Therefore an analysis of consumer variables gives more on the bigger picture (Adkins 2005).

When consumers make a decision to purchase a product, how they feel about the company can influence their intentions (Sen and Bhattacharya 2001). The factors which determine whether a product or service is bought or not are referred to as consumer variables for example, if there is a strong correspondence between what a company does and a cause that it sponsors (e.g., a sports program for disadvantaged youth), this relationship between the company and the cause may enhance consumer responsiveness to the CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  effort if the match up promotes perceptions that the company is lending its expertise and financial support. On the other hand, this similarity could prompt negative reactions if the CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  campaign is viewed as an attempt to exploit the cause for company gain (Barones et al 2000).

Preliminary academic research findings by (Brown and Dacin, 1997; Lafferty et al, 2004; Strahilevitz and Myers, 1998) suggest that consumers are receptive to cause related marketing and consider corporate participants socially responsible. Results from extra studies also indicate that information regarding a company’s support of social causes can affect choice (Barone et al 2000). Ross, Stutts, and Patterson (1991) found that consumers’ attitudes toward organizations involved in CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  were primarily positive, with women having more favourable attitudes toward CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  in general (Ross, Patterson, & Stutts, 1992).

A survey according to (Clow and Baack 2005) indicated that a significant number of consumers say they are willing to switch brands or retailers to firms that are associated with good causes. Additional surveys by (Clow and Bacck 2005) also suggested that consumers place high levels of trust in non-profit organizations and prefer products marketed in association with non-profit causes as highlighted in the afore-mentioned. In another survey by (BITC 2001), the relationship between CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  and brand affinity was proven. According to this survey, 89 per cent of consumers have purchased a product associated with a good cause with a CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  product being bought every second in theUnited Kingdom.

‘Specifically, the results of four studies employing two product categories provided evidence that simple support of charitable causes is not necessarily sufficient to elicit positive responses from consumers. Instead, when contemplating the potential effect of CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING campaigns on consumer choice, marketers should be concerned with how consumers perceive the businesses motivation behind its CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  activities (Barones et al 2000). Additionally when available brands are viewed as being similar on product features, any competitive advantage in terms of CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  efforts will affect choice (Barones et al 2000). Customers therefore want a reliable supplier with a good reputation for quality products and services. At the same time, the surrounding community wants to be confident that the business is operating in a socially and environmentally responsible way (Demetriou et al 2010).

Topical findings indicated that two thirds of respondents in a survey would switch to a brand associated with a CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  effort, but only if performance and price were equivalent to competing brands (“Report: Consumers Swayed” 1997). Also, consumers have reported performance and price to be relatively important factors, but CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  a relatively unimportant influence, on decision making (“It Pays to Behave” 1995; Smith and Stodghill 1994). Another factor investigated previously is the product type. Hedonic products are motivated by the desire for sensual pleasure and utilitarian ones are provoked by a basic need. CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  is more likely to be effective in promoting hedonic products than utilitarian ones because of guilt feeling accompanied with the purchase (Chang 2009).

Recently, Einwiller et al. (2006) found that when respondents were presented with negative information about a company, the attitudes formed as a consequence of this information affected behavioural intentions. Given the link between attitudes and purchase intentions in the literature, it is likely that attitude towards the company therefore has a direct effect on purchase intentions. Therefore in order for a consumer to determine if the image of a business is compatible with the image of a social cause, the consumer must have enough information about the corporation to make the compatibility judgment (Trimblet and Rifon 2006).

One important variable that has been identified to determine this judgement is the fit between a product and a cause. Although researchers agree that selecting the “right” cause is a key to a successful CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  strategy, little is known in terms of what constitutes a good fit and how the fit nature can moderate the CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  effectiveness. In a present study, two high-fit natures are explored: consistent fit (i.e., a cause and a product have consistent images or similar values) and complementary fit (i.e., a selected cause is used to improve the harmful image through a compensation act) (Chang 2009).

Cause-brand fit is the degree of similarity an individual perceives between the brand and the cause (Kashyap and Li 2006). The general view of theories suggests that people prefer consistency among beliefs or attitudes. If inconsistency exists, people become uncomfortable and seek to resolve the incongruity. (Edmondson and Lafferty 2007). If the images are in conflict with each other, then negative perceptions might occur toward either or both partners as consumers are forced to deal with the contrasting information (Lafferty and Edmondson 2009).

The findings in (Trimblet and Rifon 2006) underline the importance of consumer perceptions of the compatibility between a corporate sponsor and cause. They point to the importance of individual differences that influence the compatibility perceptions. It also points out the importance is the consumer’s familiarity with the cause. Cause familiarity was found to influence perceptions of credibility for conditions that lacked functional similarity between the cause and the company. (Trimblet and Rifon 2006)

Familiarity is the result of knowledge about a product or cause which has been accumulated by the consumer over time either directly or indirectly (Bettman and Sujan 1987). In other words, the more familiar the cause, the easier and quicker the brand or cause will be retrieved from an individual’s memory. Bettman and Sujan (1987) also found that when brands are familiar, the degree of liking is stable since the amount of brand experiences and associations is extensive; however, when brands are not familiar, the relative degree of liking is less stable and less accessible because attitudes toward the brand are either unformed or weakly formed (Fazio et al 1989).

Ideally, CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  campaigns are designed to create an alliance between a brand and a cause so that consumers are able to formulate new evaluations which will then enhance their perceptions of both partners (Edmondson and Lafferty 2009). For attitudes toward the brand, Lafferty et al (2004) found that the attitude towards the cause-brand alliance positively impacted attitude towards the brand. The most important goal of a CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  campaign is to increase sales for the brand in order to donate to the cause. Because of this, the adverts are written and designed in a manner that persuades individuals to purchase the brand so that the cause can benefit. Since the intent of CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  is to encourage the purchase of the product so that money can be given to the cause, the direct effect of attitude toward the alliance on purchase intentions is a key. Therefore the attitude towards an alliance has a direct effect on the purchase intentions if for example a brand photo is used in an advertisement, but only an indirect effect on purchase intentions if a cause photo is used. (Lafferty and Edmondson 2009).

Subsequently ‘the post-Enron (as well as many other corporate accounting scandals and bankruptcies) climate of consumer mistrust demands that businsesses establish their concern for their customers and society at large’ (Trimblet and Rifon 2006). The notion that organisations have a moral obligation to be socially responsible continues to be a subject of numerous investigations (Adkins 2005) and various variables such as perception; motivation, personality and attitude continue to act as contributing factors to the implementation of CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  by businesses. Generally speaking, something such as a consumer’s income could also act as a variable on what is purchased.

Although Cause related marketing makes commercial sense and can deliver greater benefits from enhanced reputation to loyalty as well as increases sales volumes and income it still needs to be planned carefully as part of the overall marketing mix for it to deliver maximum returns (Adkins 2005) as seen in the case of McDonald’s which fundraises as well as provides free equipment for the Ronald McDonald House. Therefore the most effective way to incorporate socially responsible marketing into a company’s overall strategy is to focus the company’s goodwill in areas that also benefit the economic goals of the business (Trimblet and Rifon 2006).

Evidently surveys and research on various brands, causes, or products have sometimes produced different results and thus generalisation is an apparent possibility of CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  (Lafferty and Edmondson 2009). It would therefore be prudent to test real products with real causes and customers that are familiar and important to evaluate effects on attitudes toward the alliance and the other outcome variables. (Lafferty and Edmondson 2009) In addition key principles such as integrity, transparency, sincerity, mutual respect, partnership and mutual benefit should be considered at all times. Keeping these principles in the forefront of the development of CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING  partnerships, will allow these relationships to tend towards excellent partnerships (Adkins 2005).

Reference List


Adkins, S. (2005) Cause Related Marketing: Who Cares Wins.Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.


Journals Articles

  • Barone, M.J. Miyazaki A.D., and Taylor, K.A. (2000) “The Influence of Cause-Related Marketing on Consumer Choice: Does One Good Turn Deserve Another?” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 28(2), pp. 248-262.
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  • Chang, C. (2009) “Consumer Response to Harmful Products with Cause-Related Marketing: Influences of Product-Cause Fit and Product Type.” Advances in Consumer Research – North American Conference Proceedings 36, pp. 793-794.
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  • Edmondson, D., & Lafferty, B. (2007). Cause Related Marketing: A Model of Consumer’s Attitude toward the Cause-Brand Alliance. Society for Marketing Advances Proceedings, pp. 20-23.
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  • Lavack, A.M., and Kropp F. (2003) “Consumer Values and Attitude toward Cause-Related Marketing: A Cross-Cultural Comparison.” Advances in Consumer Research 30 (1), pp. 377-378.
  • Lafferty, B.A. and Edmondson D. R. (2009) “Portraying the cause instead of the brand in cause-related marketing ads: Does it really matter?” Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice 17 (2), pp. 129-143.
  • Lafferty, B.A., Goldsmith, R.E and Hult, G.T.M. (2004). The impact of the alliance on the partners: a look at cause-brand alliances. Psychology & Marketing 21(7), pp. 509-531.
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  • Ross, J. K., Patterson, L. T., and Stutts, M. A. (1992). Consumer perceptions of organizations that use cause-related marketing. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 20(1), pp 93–97.
  • Ross, J. K., Stutts, M. A., & Patterson, L. T. (1991). Tactical considerations for the effective use of cause-related marketing. Journal of Applied Business Research, 7(2), pp 58–65.
  • Sen, S., and Bhattacharya C.B. (2001) “Does Doing Good Always Lead to Doing Better? Consumer Reaction to Corporate Social Responsibility,” Journal of Marketing Research, 38 (2), pp 225–244.
  • Slow, K., & Baack, D. (2005). CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING. Concise Encyclopaedia of Advertising, pp 28-29.
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  • Strahilevitz, M., and Myers, J.G. (1998). Donations to charity as purchase incentives: how well they work may depend on what you are trying to sell. Journal of Consumer Research, 24, pp 434-446.
  • Trimblet, C.S. and Rifon, N. J (2006). Consumer perceptions of compatibility in cause-related marketing messages. International Journal of Non-profit & Voluntary Sector Marketing, 11(1), pp 29-47.
  • Varandarajan, R.P., and Menon, A. (1988), “Cause-Related Marketing: A Co-alignment of Marketing Strategy and Corporate Philanthropy,” Journal of Marketing, 52 (3), pp 58–74.
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Electronic Resources

  • Business in the Community (BITC) (2001) Cause Related Marketing Corporate Survey III [WWW] BITC [Accessed ?/?/10]
  • Heart and Sold survey (2001) [WWW] & page=28 . [Accessed? /? /10]
  • Simms, A. (2007) The devil in the retail [WWW]  [Accessed? /? /10]



Category: Marketing