Cause marketing is typically an upbeat approach to positioning a brand as philanthropic and responsible. However, it can also incur a more serious tone during times of need. The tsunami that hit Japan on Friday was one of these instances. It was thoroughly covered by the news, as was expected. What was less expected, however, were the brands that stepped in to lend a helping hand.
The most immediate branded assistance came from LivingSocial and AT&T. Group buying site LivingSocial normally offers deals on hot items from various retailers and restaurants that are local to the user. In this case, instead of offering a deal the site partnered with GlobalGiving to offer a range of monetary donation levels. Users have the option to select what relief efforts they would like their money to go to as well. AT&T’s approach was similarly simple: the service is offering free calls to Japan until the end of the month. Since this move by the telecom provider, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have followed.
During the after-effects of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the Red Cross called for $10 mobile donations via SMS. Owners of any mobile device could simply text a code to a specified number and have a $10 donation added to their cell phone bill. The ease of participation and accessibility generated over $5 million in relief funds. The “micropayment” digital trend jumpstarted out of this effort, and since then we have seen micropayment integration into such platforms as news sites, where readers can pay small amounts to read a single article.
Some brands such as Groupon have taken a less tender approach to such sensitive subjects as this, however. Its Super Bowl commercial took light of the serious state in Tibet and in doing so caused uproar and discontent among the majority of its millions of viewers.
So, it is clear that brands should maintain a philanthropic approach when stepping into emotion-packed situations. The best way in doing so may not be as clear. As we have seen with LivingSocial and AT&T, the best way to offer global assistance in times of need is to do what the brand does best. Whether it be offering a platform for donating funds or providing a free service to anyone who could possibly be affected, the simplest branded offerings are most typically the best in terms of fundamental helpfulness and positioning of the brand.
What brands should also aim to do in such situations is form a unity of both the brand and its audience to provide relief. While this is exactly what LivingSocial did, they could have done it even better by offering an added incentive, such as the names of the donors listed in a place of notoriety.
Emily Knab, 3.16.2011