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Three things I learned while blogging about cause marketing in 2012

Three things I learned while blogging about cause marketing in 2012

I have been blogging about this topic, here and elsewhere, for almost four years. I started doing it as a form of professional development (I’m a Creative Director at a social issues marketing agency) and the process of researching and analyzing campaigns from around the world teaches me something new every day. Here are three themes that have been particularly evident in the past year:

1. Women know their own power, and they are organized


The words “slut” and “vagina” featured prominently in the run-up to the 2012 US election, and that conversation was controlled by women’s activist groups. They ended up being a major force in Barack Obama’s re-election, as his opponents held on to their policies of limiting reproductive choice: among unmarried women, who make up 23% of voters, President Obama was favoured by 67%.

2. To create change, you have to find common ground


Another group that got it right in this US election year was the LGBT movement. From 2009 to 2012, several organizers turned to market research and consumer marketing strategy to try to find a more effective way to bring gay rights issues into the mainstream. They found out that the “traditional” approach of defiance and confrontation was actually alienating soft supporters. So they opted instead to focus on common ground issues of love and commitment. It worked.

You can read more about it here.

3. Some “celebrity” PSAs do more for the celebrities than the cause


Celebrities love causes, because they love positive publicity. This isn’t true of all who speak out, and work hard, to try to create social change. But as I saw more and more half-assed celebrity campaigns choking up YouTube in 2012, I was increasingly reminded of conservative humourist P.J. O’Rourke’s rant against Live Aid back in the ‘80s:

Charity entails sacrifice. Yet the Live Aid performers are sacrificing nothing. Indeed, they’re gaining public adulation and a thoroughly unmerited good opinion of themselves. Plus, it’s free advertising… The performers donate their time, which is wholly worthless. Big corporations donate their services, which are worth little enough. Then the poor audience pledges all the contributions and buys all the trash they can ill-afford.

That’s cynical as hell, but I would love to see cause marketers and celebrities find more creative, meaningful, and effective ways to reach people and inspire change than just loaning their name and beauty to a hastily-filmed PSA.

In 2012, I also saw a continuing reaction against “pinkwashing” and sexualized women’s health advertising. This will undoubtedly continue to gain force in 2013.

As well, while many cause marketers continue to hold on to the theory that they can shock people into modifying their behaviour, I am seeing more and more positive reinforcement used. That’s a trend I’ll be watching with great interest next year.

Have a safe and productive 2013.


I am Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. Read more