Do you have a cause that’s near and dear to your heart? Does it make you feel good when you support a special charity? But how about when Big Food companies partner with charitable organizations to promote their brands? Do these companies really care? Although one can’t argue that their donations help many good causes, the honest truth is Big Food isn’t motivated by some altruistic desire. Rather, cause marketing has become yet another strategy they use to grow their brands.
So why has cause marketing become so popular? Well, when used effectively it can work in many powerful ways:
- Cause marketing humanizes a brand by telling consumers “we care.”
- It provides an emotional tie-breaker that gives a consumer one more reason to buy a particular brand
- It can help brands get merchandised—participation in cause platforms like Komen For the Cure can help a brand get valuable merchandising like end-aisle displays or features in retailers’ ads
- Cause marketing gives consumers a reason to “like” and “share”—when a popular cause is involved, consumers are much more likely to spread the word and talk about a brand on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
But probably the most powerful yet subtle way cause marketing can help products is by strengthening certain credentials, like health, whether the brand deserves it or not.
Campbell’s has long touted the health benefits of eating soup. However over the years high sodium levels have plagued its efforts. In fact, in the 1980s food advocates successfully forced Campbell’s to abandon its “Soup is good food” slogan after arguing soup is too salty to be deemed “good” or “healthy.”
Down but not out, Campbell’s announced a huge sodium reduction effort in 2006. Between launching a line of reformulated, sodium-reduced soups and establishing long-term goals for further sodium reduction across all soups, it seemed like Campbell’s finally wanted to enact real change. Campbell’s even teamed up with the American Heart Association’s (AHA) “Go Red” effort by launching its “adDress Your Heart” campaign.
Fast forward six years later, Campbell’s is still a huge AHA sponsor pledging more than $3.6 million in 2012. So what’s wrong? Despite recent USDA guidelines that suggest Americans are still consuming way too much sodium, Campbell’s took a dramatic turn and scrapped its sodium-reduction strategy in hopes of luring soup-lovers back to its sodium-drenched fold. Apparently consumers weren’t buying enough of the new, lower-sodium versions. But how can Campbell’s continue its heart health campaign when it has ditched it sodium-reduction efforts and most of its soup line-up has over 1,500 mg of sodium per can?
Using a classic page from Big Food’s playbook, Campbell’s tie-in only applies to a small portion of the company’s soup and food offerings that the AHA has certified as heart healthy. Of course this fact is practically invisible to everyone. Check out Campbell’s logo above. And how about its YouTube video with Monica Potter? And its landing page on Facebook? Would you guess Campbell’s heart health campaign is limited to only a small fraction of Campbell’s portfolio? And what happens when consumers connect Campbell’s “adDress Your Heart” effort with its national advertising campaign entitled, “It’s Amazing What Soup Can Do?” In consumers’ minds Campbell’s soup becomes a veritable superfood.
By using imagery of active, happy, and healthy people, Campbell’s successfully transforms its salty, canned soup into a cure-all for what ails you. Through the use of advertising and misleading cause marketing efforts, Campbell’s has created powerful messages that make people believe canned soup is good for you.
How about the charity partners? Shouldn’t they be doing a better job vetting and managing potential partnerships? Probably, but as this 2010 tie-in between KFC and Komen For The Cure proves, many of these organizations are so pressed to raise money, it seems like they will partner with anyone.
What do you think of Big Food’s contributions to charities? Are they motivated by generosity, or is cause marketing just another way to manipulate consumers to get them eating more processed food?
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