The Four Cs of Cause Marketing

The Four Cs of Cause Marketing

All brands want to attract new customers and retain long-term customers. Both are laudable goals that require customers to discriminate among offered products and to exhibit customer loyalty. When done correctly, cause marketing can result in a major boost to profitability as well as brand loyalty. A relatively recent innovation in the marketing field, cause marketing is also known as social responsibility marketing. The first time consumers saw such an ad was in 1976 when Marriott Corporation linked its brand with the March of Dimes. The term cause marketing refers to linking a brand with a social ideal in order to obtain increased profits for the brand and nurture benefits to society as endorsed by the brand’s consumers.

Unfortunately, cause marketing can easily backfire. One example of a brand linking unsuccessfully to a cause is the KFC campaign linking to Juvenile Diabetes. The company’s ad offered a $1 donation to juvenile diabetes research for every mega jug of Pepsi purchased. That was a case of tone-deafness combined with an obvious emphasis on the profit motive over true social responsibility.

It is much harder to succeed at cause marketing than to fail which also makes it harder to find examples of successful cause marketing ads. The best way to navigate the turbulent currents involved in cause marketing is to follow the “4Cs.” Follow our demonstration of the 4Cs below which underscores the Dove’s Real Beauty campaign as a successful example of marketing for a cause.

1C: Relate to Core Missions.

Cause marketing should always tie into your business’ core mission. We turn once again to KFC for an example of cause marketing that failed to follow this rule. KFC’s ad campaign boasted that the company had made the single largest donation to cancer research. Unfortunately for KFC, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website goes into specifics on how excess body weight contributes to a person’s cancer risk. KFC specializes in fried fast foods which are not exactly anyone’s prime example of healthy eating. The resulting ad was a consummate disconnect.

On the other hand, Dove’s successful beauty campaign not only provided beauty products; the campaign focused on how every woman should feel empowered to feel beautiful. The company made three vows for its Dove Beauty Pledge and, in so doing, stated clearly that its ads would follow its core mission:

  • To always use real women in their ads, not models.
  • To always portray women as they are in real life, not digitally distorted.
  • To help girls build confidence and body esteem.

2C: Contributes Value.

It is not enough to simply come out in favor of a popular trend or to take an in-vogue political position. Such acts do not guarantee successful cause marketing. In other words, Dove’s campaign would have failed if they just created advertisements promoting their viewpoint. Rather, Dove took extra steps to create and hold “Real Beauty” workshops and to implement a “Self-Esteem Fund.”

The campaign was voted by AdAge as its 2007 Creativity Grand Prize Winner. Dove’s ad entitled “Evolution,” shows the painful and definitely obtrusive steps it takes to turn a real woman into a “billboard babe.” The theme of the ad is that artificial beauty siphons off the natural beauty of a woman. Dove wanted to encourage girls to participate in Dove’s real-beauty workshops and the Self-Esteem Fund.

3C: Continuous Efforts.

It is important to understand that cause marketing is not a one-off effort. Cause marketing requires reinforcement of the theme over time because what businesses want is for people to identify their brand with the cause. People have to see that again and again for it to sink in.

Dove started the Real Beauty campaign in 2004. The successive ads do not repeat the same message each time, but the ads repeat the same theme. The prize-winning theme teaches that female empowerment comes from recognizing a woman’s natural beauty rather than by substituting an artificially created image of perfection.

To consumers 16 years later, the cause has become synonymous with Dove’s “pledge”.

4C: Clear Communication.

Creating clever ads is not one of the 4Cs for an important reason. In fact, Dove’s Real Beauty campaign nearly foundered when they tried too hard for cleverness in their message. Dove ran into claims that they created a “racist ad,” and that perception very nearly destroyed the campaign it had spent 13 years building.

Dove placed a 3-second ad on its Facebook page in the U.S. The ad showed a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman underneath. The ad, posted on a Friday, was removed by Dove with an apology on the next day (Saturday). The ad’s point was that beauty is “skin-deep,” but it was too clever by half. Consumers felt the ad went against the entire Dove campaign. If Dove had tried to send out a clear message instead of a clever one, the incident would not have happened. The creators of the ad were not trying to send a racially discriminatory message, but their clever images were ambivalent enough to lead to misinterpretations and claims of racism.

Engage with the Community You Serve.

The 4Cs of cause marketing applied successfully may lead to community engagement, which we like to call 5C. In other words, when you know how to use cause marketing in the right ways, you engage with the community you serve. That is the goal, after all. Linking your brand with a social cause to increase company profits, promote the brand, and result in societal benefits for the consumers and community at large. That is engagement with a capital “E.”

If you are interested in learning more about how you can maximize consumer engagement, we invite you to download our e-book entitled “How to Leverage Cause Marketing to Maximize Community Engagement.

Share This

Posted in


Stay on top of industry news and trends.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Recent Posts



There's so much more to talk about.

They say word of mouth is the best advertising. Well, we’ve got a big mouth. But in a good way. A way that drives interest and demand in your business. Check it out!