Social causes rule marketers' back-to-school campaigns

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JCPenney's 'Pennies from Heaven' campaign supports local after-school programs
JCPenney's 'Pennies from Heaven' campaign supports local after-school programs

JCPenney, Macy's and General Mills are among the brands that launched back-to-school marketing initiatives this summer tied to youth-oriented social causes. The marketers see the campaigns as opportunities to win consumers' hearts and minds, as well as dollars, during an important shopping season.

JCPenney launched the "Pennies from Heaven" campaign in late July with agencies Momentum Worldwide, 360i and Saatchi & Saatchi New York. The effort is using a JCP Rewards incentive, a custom website and TV and print ads to support local after-school programs. 

Daphne Avila, senior corporate communications manager at JCPenney, said the program will run four times each year. The company simultaneously launched the "Daydreamer" campaign featuring direct mail, email, online display, TV and print ads. "Daydreamer" promotes kids' creative aspirations while highlighting the retailer's back-to-school clothing line. "Our customers tell us that cause-related programs that benefit kids are important to them," said Avila. 

Macy's launched a campaign with youth volunteer organization last month. The in-house initiative is using direct mail, email, mobile and social media to urge youths to participate in volunteer activities. 

"We have been interested in doing something in cause marketing for youth and Millennial customers for awhile," said Holly Thomas, VP of media relations and cause marketing at Macy's. "They're active and want to support brands that are doing something to make a difference."

Chris Rosica, president and CEO of Rosica, a marketing and PR firm with a cause-marketing specialization, noted that "the back-to-school season is a good time to launch cause-related campaigns because the holiday season has gotten so crowded." 

"Moms are the No. 1 consumer demographic in America, and brands are aware that back-to-school kicks off the purchase season and end-of-year push," he said. 

General Mills launched an interactive online sweepstakes last month promoting its 15-year-old "Box Tops for Education" initiative. It built a website to educate parents about the program, which lets consumers earn cash for schools by clipping Box Tops coupons from products. "Participating brands are building loyalty by supporting a cause that consumers care about," said Zack Ruderman, director of Box Tops for Education at General Mills.

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