Cause Branding – Building Emotional Connections

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on November 28, 2011

Gone are the days when the term “Bisleri water” was used for any mineral water available in the market and “Parle G” meant any Glucose Biscuit available in the retail stores. There were times when these terms were synonymous with the product category they represented and these brands, being one- of- a- kind in their product category were dominant players in the market. In today’s scenario, when you have myriads of brand screaming in your face for attention, it is unjust to associate a specific brand with a certain product. There are strong competitors for Bisleri in the Mineral water segment- namely Aquafina, Tata Himalaya and many other local players which may be equally good price and quality wise. Same is the case with the second example of Glucose Biscuits. Apart from Parle G, we have Britannia Tiger Biscuits and ITC’s Sunfeast Glucose Biscuits which are equally competent. In this rat race of brands, in order to survive, it becomes necessary for a brand to stand out as something different .And while the big giants in India such as the HUL and ITC are trying to inculcate the Triple Bottom Line Philosophy for sustainability in the long run, rather than focussing purely on financial profitability, what would complement these initiatives better than Cause Branding?


The term “Cause Branding” was invented around 19 years ago by Carol Cone, the Founder and Director of Cone Inc., a Boston based PR and Marketing Agency. She defined Cause Branding as “business strategy that helps an organization stand for a social issue(s) to gain significant bottom line and social impacts while making an emotional and relevant connection to stakeholders.” This clearly differentiated Cause Branding as being a long-term association between the brand and the cause, integrated completely in the brand- related decision making process at higher levels. Enterprises often confuse their traditional cause-related marketing strategies and acts of philanthropy with Cause Branding. In reality, Cause branding associates the brand and the cause supported by the brand in a much deeper way. While Cause Branding can be a long term strategy of a brand to remain connected with a certain cause, Cause Marketing could be a mere short term tactic incorporated in the process of Cause Branding in a certain moment of opportunity.

Apart from creating the required Point of Differentiation for the specific brand, Cause Branding does wonders to the reputation of the Company. By striking an emotional chord with the consumers, these strategies generate a lot of goodwill for the brand. It is mutually beneficial to both the profit as well as the non-profit organizations involved. Not only does it lead to strengthened Brand Equity and increased awareness, penetration and resources but also helps establish long lasting relationships between the company, its stakeholders and the rest of the community. Cause Branding thus leads to an effective alignment of the Company’s Business goals with social goals, leading to a win-win situation for both the Company as well as the society.

Now that there are several plus points in the kitty of this branding endeavor, it is important to understand when, or which brands should preferably go for this. A cause branding attempt can hardly ever be successful for a brand with lower reputation and whose customers have a lower awareness for social issues. Level of success of such initiatives would be low to medium if either of the two influencing parameters, i.e. the social sensitivity of the consumers or the reputation and image of the brand, tip towards the higher side. Cause Branding is most effective when both the awareness of the brand as well as consciousness of the customers towards the social issue with which the brand connects itself are both high. An example of this in the Indian context is that of HLL, whose fairness cream brand Fair and Lovely is very popular amongst a majority of Indian women. It is this same target segment of consumers amongst whom the social empathy for issues such as women’s rights, education and empowerment are high. Realising the opportunities offered by this situation, HLL touched the hearts of not only its target segment and other stakeholders but also of underprivileged women. The company made a long-term investment in the cause by setting up the Fair and Lovely Foundation to aid the economic empowerment of underprivileged women by providing them with information as well as resources in education and career. A brand which may be considered apt for Cause Branding typically goes through the traditional philanthropic activities followed by a one-time cause related marketing stint, the success of which encourages the brand to further develop a long-term commitment with a specific social cause. A familiar and close-to-home example of this evolution is that of the brand “Infosys”. After some acts of charity and a few initial cause- related marketing drives later, the company set up the Infosys Foundation, which has undertaken numerous internal and external programs for several social causesfrequently over a period of time.

When a brand decides to go ahead with Cause Branding, it should make a smart choice as to which cause to take up. The cause chosen by the brand should be in sync with the core values of the brand and should bring out what the brand stands for. For example, it is extremely apt for a cosmetic major like Avon to support a cause like Breast Cancer. The women folk who are loyal customers of this brand would definitely be able to relate to this cause. At the same time, Avon may also end up attracting more number of customers as well as converting current customers into loyal customers. Likewise, the long-term initiative by ITC Limited in India, wherein for every four “Classmate” brand notebooks bought, Re. 1 goes to its rural development programs targeted at primary education for children in villages, is definitely in tandem with the “Classmate” stationery products. If a company like Avon, that manufactures cosmetics exclusively for women had supported the cause of rural children’s education; or even more, if a stationery product brand such as Classmate had thought of supporting a very specific cause such as Breast Cancer, it would have been absurd, and a total mismatch. Lord & Taylor, the highly reputed traditional American fashion and lifestyle retail store brand, was once in for such a Cause Branding disaster. Beginning in the month of September, which is the National Childhood Cancer Awareness month in US, they decided to launch a “Cookies for Kids’ Cancer” charitable trust, where in all proceedings from a $3 treat of the all-natural chocolate chip cookie were to go for finding a cure for paediatric cancers.Lord  & Taylor was neither a foods brand nor exclusive kids wear brand, and henceit did not stand for anything that could be anyhow related to the cause it was supporting or to the measures it was taking in order to support that cause.Its cause branding attempt was thus, an obvious blunder. The intention and occasion for the start-up were right, but the brand and the social issue were a complete mismatch. This can harm the reputation of the brand.

To sum it up, an integration with the vision, mission, values and business model of an organization, an in-depth understanding of the brand, roping in a long-term strategy, collaboration with non-profit organizations to address a critical social issue involving employees at all levels, effective communication with all stake holders and creation of a measurable impact, are all the essential ingredients for successful cause branding. In the times of democracy, with corrupt and bureaucratic governments, the expectations of the citizens of a nation have shifted from the government to the private companies, which seem to garner a lot of trust and support in the hearts and minds of not just their customers but that of the community as a whole. With today’s customer becoming more n more brand conscious and expecting and demanding much more from their brands than from their government, it becomes essential for a brand to take up Cause Branding in the course of its life. Companies have therefore begun to look up and take notice of every such unique challenge, which is also an opportunity offered by Cause Branding. Whether it is General Electric’s Ecomagination or Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Limited’s “The Livelihood Advancement Business Schools (LABS)”, all give out a common message- the health of a business as well as a society are intrinsically linked and only when communities are fully educated, healthy and productive can a business really thrive.

This article has been authored by Komal Takavale from Goa Institute of Management

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