Though cause-related marketing potentially offers huge benefits to both causes and the for-profit companies that partner with them, not all cause marketing partnerships are equally effective for both parties.
When selecting a cause, marketers often pick one with which consumers are familiar. This means that the more familiar causes will get selected as partners often to the exclusion of lesser known ones.
In their article in the Journal of Business Research, Barbara Lafferty of University of South Florida and Ronald Goldsmith of Florida State University (2005) paired a familiar brand with a familiar cause to see how consumers felt about each partner as a result of the alliance, and then paired that same brand with an unfamiliar cause to see if either partner fared differently. They found that both partners benefited albeit differently.
If the brand is familiar and attitudes toward it are positive before the alliance, consumers’ attitudes toward the brand afterwards improved significantly regardless of which cause was the partner. On the other hand, when a familiar cause that is thought of positively before the alliance is the partner, afterwards, attitudes towards it remained unchanged. Only consumer attitudes toward the unfamiliar cause increased significantly after the alliance.
The implications of this study suggest that a brand manager’s choice of a cause partner is not limited to only those causes that consumers know well. As for the cause manager, while the unfamiliar cause benefits more in enhanced consumer perceptions as part of the alliance, the familiar cause still potentially benefits financially from the partnership. In short, unfamiliar causes have more to gain from cause-brand marketing alliances than well-known causes, but if the cause-related marketing campaign is successful, it is a win-win regardless due to the financial benefits.
For more details on this research, see: “Cause-Brand Alliances: Does the Cause Help the Brand Or Does the Brand Help the Cause?” Barbara A. Lafferty, PhD & Ronald E. Goldsmith, PhD Journal of Business Research 58 (2005), 423-429