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Adding Cause to Branding


The benefits of being perceived to be socially responsible

are varied and many. Understandably brands want to be

perceived as socially responsible. Being associated with a good

cause is a quick way for a brand to begin the tag of being seen

as ‘socially responsible’. This shows the brand to be responsible

and caring and these are indeed good qualities for a brand to

have. While some brands are inspired by a genuine sense of

social responsibility many brands look at the image of being

socially responsible as helping in building brand stature. The

conscious employment of resources by a brand to aid charitable

causes in order to develop image, associations and identity

benefits is called cause related branding.

There are 5 main reasons why brands associate with charitable

causes other than from a socially responsible perspective:

1. Builds brand preference: Marketing sense states and some

research studies confirm, that ceteris paribus, consumers would

prefer buying a brand that is associated with a good cause than

from other brands.

2. Justifies a premium: Consumers often do not mind paying a

premium for a brand that is known to be generous to a wellknown

charity as consumers feel that the brand deserves the

premium. The knowledge that a part of the money paid to a

brand is going to a good cause adds to the positive emotional

component of the brand.

3. Reduces negative connotations associated with the brand:

Liquor and tobacco brands often associate themselves with

causes as a means of negating a part of the disrepute associated

with their industry.

4. Provides the brand with desirable values: Brands that are

seen to possess a very commercial and greedy image may wish

to develop a softer image by showing a softer nicer side by

donating to charitable organizations.

5. Useful for raising money: Brands that plan to approach the

money market for raising money from the public often show the

warm side of their personality by publicly supporting charitable

causes. Investors who are not doing extensive research on the

brand may invest because they believe a brand with good

intentions can be trusted.

As is obvious from the advantages mentioned above, cause

related branding has a lot to offer brands and therefore this route

is being used by many brands. There are several successful

examples cause related branding working wonders for brands it

must be understood that a poorly developed cause strategy will

lead to no little or no benefits for the brand. The days when a

brand could merely tie up with a well-known charity and earn

brownie points are over and the intricacies involved in making

cause related branding work are worthy of careful consideration.

In branding, adopting a strategic perspective is critical. In cause

related branding it becomes even more critical as the process of

establishing an association with a cause takes significant

investment of time, effort and money. Reaping the benefits of

the association takes time and delinking from a cause can have

strong negative repercussions for a brand and the involvement of

the highest echelons of management need to be involved in

decisions involving cause related branding.

There are three levels of decisions that brands need to look at

and the implications of each category of decisions is to be

understood before planning for any kind of cause related


1. Deciding the category: There are a wide range of categories

of causes ranging from care of deprived children to restoration of

dignity of seniors. Categories are wide and can encompass a wide

range of sub categories. Within the cause category of care for

senior citizens there are sub categories addressing issues such as

care for abandoned elders, medical treatment of senior citizens,

etc. It is important to choose the right kind of category and sub

category as a prelude to deciding a relevant issue to back within

this category.

2. Deciding the specific issue: Categories of causes comprise

of different issues. Issues are specific such as programs to aid

restoration of dignity of senior citizens that feel deprived of

dignity following their old age. Focusing on specific issues is

important for brands as it helps fine-tune the values that flow

from the association.

3. Deciding the specific institutions: Unless the brand is willing

to create a trust that handles the responsibilities of the cause it

will have to depend on institutions to run the operational aspects

involved in the execution of cause related activities. Aligning with

an institution that caters to a specific cause can provide a brand

with strong associations however there are times when brands

need to ensure that they are not overshadowed by charities that

are stronger brands than their sponsors.

These are some of the aspects that need to be studied before a

brand decides to associate with a charitable cause.

1. What is the relevance of the cause to the brand’s consumer

segment?: Association with a charitable cause does not

immediately mean that consumers will immediately hold the

brand in high esteem. Consumers must find the cause relevant to

their value system before the brand receives any approbation.

For example: Not all consumers may be equally supportive of a

cause that looks at providing food and shelter to

immigrants/refugees. These consumers may be more supportive

of causes that benefit their countrymen.

2. How different is it?: Many people are inured to causes and

even associations with a good cause like Cancer Care may

neither draw much attention to the brand or to the cause nor

would the association be very memorable. Finding a cause that is

relevant and yet different would help in enhancing the

memorability of the brand and cause. For example: A trust that

looks after veteran entertainers suffering from terminal diseases

can be seen as a worthy cause to support as it appreciates

people who once entertained and gave others happiness.

3. Can the cause be owned?: It is normally difficult to own a

cause, as this would require immense investment of resources. A

niche cause like the one mentioned in the above example may

not require huge investments and may not see many other

brands supporting this cause. The task of guarding the cause

associations may not be very tough nor may the cost of running

such a trust be very high.

4. Will it hold enduring relevance with this segment?: Some

causes are contextual. These causes appear to touch a sensitive

chord with consumers and then suddenly seem to lose their

appeal. Often charities in India catering to cyclone victims

suddenly find their support waning in the wake of a fresh new

tragedy in a different part of the country. Public sympathy often

veers towards the more current tragedies.

5. How will the relationship be positioned?: The nature of the

brand’s relationship with the cause can influence consumer

perceptions of the brand. A brand that extends it relationship

beyond the financial support to also provide investments of time

and talent would most likely stand to gain greater credibility from

the relationship than would a brand that only provides money.

Brands that appear to only offer financial support may be seen as

'forced' or 'insincere' and this could in some cases prove


6. Controversial issues: Brands need to be careful while

handling causes associated with controversial issues. For

example: A 'euthanasia' support foundation campaigning for

change in legislation towards euthanasia may be seen by some

as a worthy cause but association with this cause may lead to the

brand supporting it being embroiled in controversy at some stage

of its association if public opinion suffers from the occasional

mood swing. While some brands court controversy through shortterm

associations with controversial causes this could be risky as

well as counter productive as the issue could turn ugly and taint

the brand or it could grow far bigger than the brand.

Cause related branding works best when it is driven by the core

values of the brand. Like anything else that is forced, cause

related branding could prove counterproductive if it is not a

'natural' facet of the brand. When it is not 'natural' to the brand

then the cause related activities are de-prioritized and lose focus

often with corresponding effect on the brand.

In an increasingly cynical world, the value of genuinely sensitive

acts is extremely high. There are several cries for brands to show

greater responsibility and to share a small part of their wealth

with the less privileged. The current economic strife created by

schizophrenic brands that show dissonance between their

different actions has led to lower levels of consumer belief in

brands. Cause related branding performed with genuine intent

can help restore consumer trust and build brand equity.