Edelman’s 2010 goodpurpose study suggests that the traditional marketing mix of product, price, place and promotion has grown to embrace a fifth “p”: purpose.

One way that companies inject purpose into their brands is through cause marketing, an old concept that traditionally involves a joint promotional effort between a not-for-profit organization and a for-profit brand. Good causes get great exposure by riding the marketing coattails of a deep-pocketed company while brands get to look good by doing good.

Though this sounds like a win-win, cause marketing is not without its critics. Companies run the risk of looking disingenuous by spending tons of money on advertising and basking in good publicity. Likewise, non-profits may be accused of selling out, or of encouraging a consumer lifestyle that conflicts with their values.

But cause marketing has changed. Social media have allowed brands and non-profits to spread their messages in new, unmediated ways. And these days, many causes have become well-heeled brands in their own right.

How social media changed cause marketing

The transparent nature of social media helps address some of the concerns people have with cause marketing and donating to charities in general. Brands are using networks like Facebook and Twitter to explain their relationship to the causes they’ve aligned with, and to alleviate concerns over where donated money goes.

These platforms also cost a lot less than traditional outlets like TV and out-of-home billboards, allowing brands to market the cause without all that frivolous spending.

Though their reach may be limited, social networks are also much more immediate than mass media. When Samsung teamed up with former NFL star Dan Marino to raise awareness for autism, it raised $100,000 within 72 hours by using hashtags on Twitter.

Branding non-profits

In an age where individuals and small organizations have access to the same tools as big media companies, the question is whether causes really need brands to help them attract donations or raise awareness. Non-profits are borrowing traditional and digital marketing techniques to cut out the brand and speak directly to their audiences.

With almost 280,000 Likes, the American Red Cross has taken advantage of Facebook to promote its website, YouTube videos, blogs, and Twitter feed. Not only does the organization raise awareness through social media, but it also raises money through direct donation links.

UNICEF is another name that’s become as much of a household name as Apple or Audi. We know what the organization is about – advocating children’s rights – and its brand name reassures us that our donations are in the right hands. UNICEF’s website also lets supporters shop online or donate directly to the organization, increasing both awareness and funding.

Building the cause into the brand

Some companies are doing more than aligning their brands with a good cause; they’re integrating purpose into their core business models.

TOMS, the “One for One” shoe company, has carved out a middle ground between charity and big business. Every time someone buys a pair of shoes, TOMS donates a pair to a child in need. Customers support the cause by supporting – and often being advocates for – the brand.

Sseko is a lesser-known sandal company that incorporates giving in its business model. The company hires Ugandan women who aspire to attend university. In this case, it’s not a percentage-of-sales or “matching” model that benefits the cause.

The company pays employees above a fair wage so that the women can support their families while saving for post-secondary education. Sseko promotes its products and its cause by highlighting the human side of the brand; it directs our attention toward the people behind the company.

Shared values

Whether a brand incorporates giving into its business model or simply partners with a worthwhile cause, the key word is authenticity. It makes no sense for a tobacco company to join forces with an organization devoted to preventing lung cancer, or for an environmental organization to partner with big oil.

Now that social media have broken down the barriers to communicating with large groups of people, cause marketing is no longer a relationship of convenience. It has to make sense. Instead of piggybacking on causes, brands need to unite with a cause that reflects and demonstrates their own values.

Related