Report: Charities serve brands' cause

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Companies and brands are partnering with charities to attract consumers, according to a Universal McCann report called "Media in Mind: The Power of Cause Marketing."

And cause marketing can "switch on" a "switched-off" consumer as well, the report suggests.

"With over one-third of all consumers viewing cause marketing favorably, it can have a valuable role for many advertisers, providing that it is undertaken with probity and sincerity while also matching the company's corporate values and culture," the report said.

Cause marketing is controlled and measured to attract consumers.

"The antithesis of this is the consumer boycott: a movement beyond a marketer's control; a media or marketing strategy that leads to an unpredictable result of 'switching off' consumers," the report said.

The report examines switched-on and switched-off consumers and finds that the latter are not a lost cause. Survey respondents were asked to recall any partnerships between a brand or company and a charity or cause. Thirty-seven percent could remember at least one.

"These partnerships created a more favorable image of the product among two-thirds of those adults," the report said. "It is this group that we are calling cause marketing responders."

Cause marketing responders can be anyone, as relief donations for Hurricane Katrina and Asian tsunami victims illustrated. The median age of cause marketing responders is 45, and 45 percent are male. Their average household income is $67,800, and 48 percent are parents, the report said. More than 35 percent are college graduates.

"[T]he value of charitable partnerships extends into the sponsorship arena as well," the report said, as responders "favor event sponsors and make an effort to support them."

Cause marketing can be spectacularly successful or a disaster. A boycott is always possible, as consumers react to something they find objectionable about the company or brand.

Overall, about 13 percent of adults boycotted a product in the past 12 months. Boycotters generally are ad avoiders, and much more likely to mistrust media. They view themselves as influencers and enjoy expressing themselves, even if they think their ideas are unpopular.

Yet boycotters not only remember a company's partnership with a cause, but believe these associations enhance a brand's image.

"Although cause marketing cannot be seen as a palliative for all marketing communications ills," the report said, "marketers may find it useful - alongside other more direct methods - to help bolster brand health momentum."

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