Editor’s Note: This post is the third in a new series highlighting cause marketing campaigns from around the world called ‘Global Voices’. We hope our team of international contributors will shed insights into cause marketing in their home country and inspire you to expand your own purpose-driven horizons.
‘Prudent’ and ‘circumspect’ are keywords for Danish cause marketing – a consequence of a well educated population with a healthy skepticism towards…well, basically anything the average Dane encounters. Cause marketing is a relatively under-developed discipline in Denmark, most likely because Danes expect the welfare state takes care of its citizens. And admittedly, the state does play a significant role, ranging from free higher education and free health care to the right to a roof over your head. So how do Danish cause marketers navigate this treacherous public dominated space?
Danish Consumers: Informed and Skeptical
As in many other parts of the world, Coca-Cola’s social responsibility efforts focus on water. Its subsidiary Kildevæld, which sells natural drinking water, donates “3 litres of pure drinking water to Africa” for every bottle of Kildevæld sold in Denmark. The money goes towards Kildevæld’s partner, Red Cross, to build wells and distributes Lifestraws (a very effective straw-like water purification filter).
“The focus – Lifestraws and wells – might be an example of the Danish angle on cause marketing,” says Mikael Bonde Nielsen, public affairs & communication director for Coca-Cola Denmark.
“Cause related marketing executed in some markets may seem a bit superficial in the eyes of a well educated Dane, who has a pretty thorough understanding of how problems are interconnected,” says Bonde Nielsen.
“We focus on ‘water to Africa’ because that resonated well with the Kildevæld consumers. Initially we only delivered Lifestraws. But even though Lifestraws can be used in many situations, it is basically an emergency device. To make the ‘water to Africa’ effort sustainable, we had to expand our effort to building wells.”
Solutions Must be Sustainable
This expansion has created its own challenges. The sustainability of development aid has had some bad press in the last few years, which gave Coca-Cola something more to consider. “At some point this campaign stops. How do we make sure that the wells are still kept working? We need to plan for a proper exit from the project as well, so we were forced to think about management and local democratic structures from the start in order to keep the wells running.”
On closer inspection, “Water to Africa” turns out to be a concept that reaches far beyond merely quenching your thirst. “Water is used in a lot of contexts. One of the most problematic diseases in Africa is diarrhoea, so it became natural to incorporate some form of basic hygiene education. In these areas we rely on the know-how of the Red Cross.”
Businesses and NGOs are Experts in Different Areas
Another Coca-Cola campaign is Arctic Home – a joint collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund aiming to save the polar bear population. But just saying “We save the Polar Bear!” would be a bit too cute. Anyone can look up ‘polar bear’ on Wikipedia and read that there are 2-4 times more bears today compared with the early seventies – so what’s the problem? But underneath the story of the polar bear, there’s a story about climate change and human encroachment on what used to be polar bear territory that needs to be told. You can’t just put any marketeer to work on a campaign such as this. It could easily end up as only “so, what’s in it for us?”
The end result in Denmark was a wildlife movie about the plight of the polar bear (still showing in Copenhagen after six months), with an eye-catching polar bear ice statue outside the cinema. Campaign organizers could turn the heat up or down on the bear, thus controlling how fast it melted, with Facebook-likes turning the heat down and saving the bear. “We know how to grab the attention of the consumer. But WWF are experts on how climate change affects wildlife,” says Bonde Nielsen.
Transparency is Obligatory
As an aside, Bonde Nielsen has noticed an unexpected side effect on the people involved in the collaboration between company and NGO: After a while, their motivation starts to incorporate both the commercial and socially responsible agendas, to the point that it becomes hard to tell if they are working for Coca-Cola or Red Cross. He notes that the Red Cross is beginning to realize exciting opportunities in the commercial areas.
His point is underlined by Malene Brandt, Red Cross CSR & corporate relations manager, whose initial response is that Danish companies ought to be more vocal about their CSR work, “In Denmark, it is not really done to shout out about yourself from the rooftops. Which is too bad, because consumers do ask for companies that care and take responsibility! Danish companies are only now beginning to learn how to be proud of and talk openly about their CSR initiatives. There’s a lot of evidence that transparency is important – you must prove that you actually do what you claim to be doing. There’s a Danish skepticism which can be both healthy and limiting. We’re very quick to dismiss CSR initiatives on the grounds of ‘yeah yeah, they don’t really care, they only want to sell their product’.. well, what did you expect? But in the end I don’t really think that Danes as consumers are very different from consumers anywhere else,” says Malene Brandt.
Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Nikolaj Lykke Nielsen, editor for WhereGoodGrows.