Cause marketing is generally seen as a “win-win” for charities and their corporate partners, as charities receive much-needed funds and businesses receive the resulting good will. However, its growing popularity has also created concerns that some cause marketing campaigns may be misleading the public about the extent of the charitable contribution.
To improve transparency, the New York Attorney General recently released a report detailing best practices for cause marketing campaigns. Although the report stemmed from a review of “pink ribbon” breast cancer campaigns, the guidelines are intended to promote transparency in all charitable marketing campaigns.
The Best Practices are summarized below:
- Clearly Describe the Promotion: Consumers should be able to easily understand, before purchasing a product, key terms such as: the name of the charity; the specific dollar amount per purchase that will go to charity; any caps on the donation; whether any consumer action is required to trigger a donation; and the start and end dates of the campaign.
- Allow Consumers to Easily Determine Donation Amount: In marketing their products, companies should use a fixed dollar amount - such as 50 cents for every purchase - rather than generic phrases like "a portion of proceeds" will go to charity.
- Be Transparent About What Is Not Apparent: Companies should disclose what might not be obvious to consumers, including if there are contractual limits on the campaigns, if charitable contributions will not be made in cash, or if a fixed amount has been promised to charity regardless of the number of products sold.
- Ensure Transparency in Social Media: Companies conducting cause marketing through social media should be equally transparent, as in traditional campaigns, and clearly and prominently disclose key terms in on-line marketing.
- Tell the Public How Much Was Raised: At the conclusion of each campaign, the website should clearly disclose the amount of the charitable donation generated.
The nation's two largest breast cancer charities, Susan G. Komen For The Cure and Breast Cancer Research Foundation, have already agreed to adopt the best practices. New York companies and their charity partners should also consider incorporating them in any future cause marketing campaign.
The failure to make the recommended disclosures might not only tarnish a company’s image but could also subject it to scrutiny from the New York Attorney General’s Office.