Though Nike's controversial ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick caused quite a stir and a backlash from older demographics, the campaign was a successful in sales with their core demographic as it was in spreading awareness to the conversation of police brutality in America. But from anyone who's been following Nike closely, this marketing technique should not have come as a surprise at all.
In fact, Nike has been investing in cause marketing since the 1980s, with consistently positive results for the brand. Clearly the shoe brand has been onto something that other brands like Gillette, whose ad campaign against toxic masculinity caused equal controversy, are just now beginning to implement. In this blog post, Hollywood Branded examines how to amplify your brand through cause marketing from the expertise of Signify's Kristi Porter.
A Little Background on Kristi
Kristi is the Chief Do-Gooder of the agency, Signify, and believes in using her skills, talents, and influence to do good wherever she can. As a self described #WordNerd, she is often assisting non-profits and for-profits with a social mission in their marketing and communication efforts primarily through copy writing and marketing strategy consulting.
Kristi also teaches solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies, so they can actively participate in the issues they care about. She believes that cause-focused organizations are the future of business and when they succeed, we all win. Recently she sat down to talk with our CEO Stacy Jones about how to use cause marketing and social issues to amplify a brand's messaging and engagement to consumers.
Interview Transcript Highlights
Question: can you give us a little bit of background of what got you on this pathway to where you are today and what you're doing now?
Answer: Yeah, I have always been a writer. Since I was a little kid, it just always came naturally to me and I enjoyed it, so business communications was sort of a natural foray when it came to my degree and all the careers that I've had over the years. I worked for a number of years in the hospitality PR agency here and got to work with a lot of up and comers just as chefs were becoming rock stars, so it was kinda fun to see that trend turn.
And then, I went out on my own for a couple years and was freelance writing and then transitioned into an environmental non-profit and was the director of communications there. I went on to be the event marketing director at another non-profit and that whole time, I had been volunteering at different places and it's always been important to me to make an impact no matter where I was.
We all have personal causes that we care about and issues that are more important to us, so was doing these things on the side and then in 2006, I discovered the Social Justice Movement through the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery and just really wanted to dig in there and lend my expertise and background to become part of that movement.
So, I did that on the side and then, whenever I was looking to leave my last job as an event marketing director, I was thinking about the people and the conversations that I had had over the years and was happy to dish out free advice to non-profits and social enterprises and foundations and these other little bitty businesses that didn't have somebody like me on staff and thought, "Hey, I think there's something here."
So I went back to all those people and said, "I think I want to go start my own thing. If I did, and I've been helping you guys along the way, would you actually be able to pay for project work if I went and did this?" And they all said yes, and it was the greatest thing in the world to start my business working with my friends. It was fun to be able to help them and see really these people that I already cared so deeply about just do an even better job at what they were already great at.
Question: Can you explain why so many brands are gravitating towards it and why they really if they're not, should be?
Answer: I think it's both an issue of supply and demand. Cone Communications does an amazing study every year and the one they did last year said that 88 percent of people would buy products and services from companies that had some sort of social impact element, 88 percent. Who wouldn't wanna look at a statistic like that and pay attention?
I think there's that demand and there's also so many people who already cared in some capacity and have understood that they could give back through their business as well, that it didn't have to be two separate worlds. So, it's both something, especially Millennials and Gen Z care deeply about. I am on the cusp of that, just slightly over as an Xer and always wanted to have that social impact as well, so it just makes so much sense. We spend so much of our lives working, so why not do something with a greater purpose there and if you are a company, you certainly want to enjoy your work.
And you want to give a great culture for your employees to be a part of and we also know people will take pay cuts to work in organizations that have some sort of social impact component, so I think it was just this culmination of factors and people are no longer just satisfied with having a job. They want to have a job that makes an impact and from the other side of that, we realize that as customers, our greatest power is our spending power and we do that on a daily basis.
If I can present you with two pairs of shoes and they look similar, they're priced kinda similar, but one has a social-impact element, it's a super easy sell to go, "Yeah, I want those other shoes. I want to do good at the same time and have a new pair of shoes," so I think from just so many perspectives, it makes a lot of sense and we're now just starting to see a huge trend that's just catching everywhere.
Question: Where do you think brands have succeeded the most in creating these cause marketing efforts? Is it the Tom's model of buy a pair of shoes and donate or is it a Nike who is, "Hey, we're going to completely embrace the whole NFL controversy right now and include Kapernick back into our campaign"?
Answer: The easiest and most complex answer is it depends on your audience. It depends on who you're trying to attract. Each of those examples you gave, Nike and Toms, two very different models doing two very different things, but they know their audience and they appeal to those and they dig into that. I think where people often get it wrong is either not saying anything - they're doing great work - but so afraid to talk about it that they're coming off salesy and sleazy that they don't say anything.
They might have more fans if they actually started talking about it. And then the other side of the coin is it just comes across as "I'm doing this for show. I'm doing this to get sales," so maybe that's not their heart behind it, hopefully not. But that's how it comes across to other people, so there's certainly a delicate balance to it, but the way to do it right is to try to get other people to talk about it even if it's your internal employees and not your CEO.
And then, also just listening to the needs and wants of your audience and seeing what they're invested in literally and figuratively and where they want to see you play more in that space, because we do care about the issues that our companies care about as well. Like I said, human trafficking and modern slavery is a big issue for me, so if I see a company naturally leaning in that space or even if it's in the bio of one of the executives, then I have a natural affinity for that company already before I ever make any sort of purchase, because they're talking about things that I care about too.
Question: Should the brand go out and do multiple partnerships with cause marketing to be able to canvas and cover a broader landscape or is just going one and done and embracing and running throughout, full out with that a better plan?
Answer: I think it needs to make sense. From the standpoint of if you're a publisher, then literacy should be something that makes sense for your audience and makes sense for you to be involved in. That may not end up being your particular issue, but it might be. And so, one way is to make it make sense, so it looks more natural leaning for you.
The other thing is that I think a lot of us, whether someone picks our specific issue or not, I think we just want to know that they care, that there are actually people behind the brand doing things to drive their mission forward just like they are at non-profits and other cause-focused organizations that they care about something. And I think that will also make a difference. Just showing that they have a heart and are not just in it for a sale, I think makes a difference whether they pick my particular issue or not.
I care usually more about social justice issues, however, I'll buy things for breast cancer research, because I'm excited to see them getting involved and having a cause that they do support over something comparable that may not have that focus.
Question: Are there any last bits of advice you can give our listeners today on the next steps they should be pursuing for cause marketing?
Answer: The first step is make a decision and I think a lot of us hold back, because like when people say, "I'll have kids when... " it's never going to be a convenient time, so you've just gotta get started. The same thing with this. You just have to make the decision, "I think this is a great time. We are at a better time than ever in history now to be able to make this decision and say hey, yeah, I wanna start giving back."
Whether it's just you as an individual, whether you have your own company, whether you run a huge multinational corporation, it starts with a decision and once you decide, then you can start putting practical steps in place to get there, to make that goal happen, but just don't let it just be a good idea that you had one time. Actually make the decision and act on it.
To learn more about understanding your audience and what social causes will appeal to them, you can listen to the full interview in our podcast.
The Next Steps
Want to learn more about effective cause marketing and case studies of success brands have experienced with it? Check out other blog posts we've written on the subject and how brands made an impact partnering with the right cause!
- Cause Related Marketing Campaigns Getting The Celebrity Treatment
- How Red Nose Day Uses Power Of Celebrity Endorsements For A Good Cause
- Sofia Vergara Launches New Celebrity Brand For A Great Cause
- Case Study: The Strategic Use of Controversial Celebrity Endorsement
- 3 Case Studies Of How Brands Affect Social Change
Another way for brands to utilize cause marketing is through partnering with the right philanthropic influencers. Check out our free user's guidebook to connecting with the best influencer for your brand.