Cause Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility

As the lines blur between what constitutes ‘cause marketing’ and ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR), they are often mistakenly lumped together and perceived as being one and the same. It is easier to think of CSR as the umbrella under which a variety of business practices related to social good and initiatives like cause marketing and sponsorship sit.


Where cause marketing is essentially aligning your company with a social cause to appeal to consumers while engaging your brand in philanthropic activity, CSR encompasses a much wider range of activities that can be summed up as a company saying “we will be socially responsible in our operations.”  Many CSR programs subscribe to the triple bottom-line concept:

  1. People
  2. Planet
  3. Profit

All three must figure into what the company does to be an authentic and generous corporate citizen.

Cause marketing, when done in an authentic and engaging way, can be highly beneficial to all parties. Associating a product or brand with a social or environmental cause is not only a popular marketing tactic with consumers, according to 2010 research, 75% of consumers donated to a company identified nonprofit, illustrating that corporate altruism isn’t just good for the bottom line, it’s also good for the causes.

Of course, there have been cases where cause marketing is executed poorly and it’s been open season for criticism of cause-color-washing.  For example, KFC’s “Buckets for the Cure” campaign donated $0.50 for every (pink) $5.00 bucket of fried chicken for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, ultimately raising $4.2 million while glossing over the connection between high fat diets and breast cancer.

Cause marketing shouldn’t be misconceptualized as CSR, but instead should be seen as an opportunity to expand upon CSR programs by partnering with causes that are relevant (ie. not diametrically opposed like fried chicken and breast cancer) and that your company legitimately cares about.

Sponsorship can be a highly effective form of cause marketing. It enables companies to support those who best align with their company – whether that is a registered charity or a little league team lacking resources. Dollar-matching and supplying perks for crowdfunding campaigns is a great way to enhance a partner’s campaign while having the opportunity to both positively impact their contributions and reach new audiences and customers.