DMers have cause to talk ethics: DM Days keynote

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David Sable, vice-chairman and chief operating officer of Wunderman, advocated for marketers' use of their companies' work and donations benefitting charitable causes and nonprofit organizations to leverage brand affinity during his morning keynote address at the Direct Marketing Association's DM Days conference.

“There is nothing more intimate, or more personal…than a cause,” he said.

Sable's address focused on “ethical marketing”, also known as cause marketing.

Sable said that numerous studies indicated that consumers are more likely to switch brands and purchase a product they believe has been made ethically, or that supports ethical causes, if it is similar in price and quality to a product they had already been purchasing.

He cited a statistic, culled from a combination of consumer studies, stating that 83% of consumers polled post-9/11 were likely to purchase a product from a company they view as socially responsible rather than one they don't, provided the latter was not significantly cheaper.

“People will pay a slight premium for ethically made goods, most studies do indicate,” he said. “But people will generally only buy products they view as unethical at a very steep discount.”

Sable noted that some examples of charities or nonprofit groups consumers hold in high esteem are Doctors Without Borders, the Ronald McDonald House, and the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation.

Sable referred to this as “cause-related marketing”, which he likened to another CRM acronym, customer relations management.

“They are really the same thing,” he said. “With the Internet, companies cannot hide what they're doing. If there is a perception that a company is doing good, or supports good causes, they will be held in high esteem by consumers.”

Sable cited another study that indicated a majority of consumers care more if a company is socially responsible than if they produce a trendy or hip product.

Sable said simply supporting a cause is not enough for a company. He brought up examples of companies, such as Circuit City and Walgreens, who had done a charitable program in the past but it did not have the intended marketing effect, whether because the company did not donate enough money to the cause or had trouble linking the cause they were supporting with their brand.

“The cause must be credible, and so must the size and scale of the support,” he said.

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