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Cause Marketers Find Success With Targeted Messages

When it comes to promoting a cause, marketers are finding that it’s best to get specific. Targeting certain customer segments and using signature cause products is increasingly popular among nonprofit and charity organizations looking to engage consumers and corporate sponsors.

Whether it’s LiveStrong’s iconic yellow bracelet, or the American Heart Association’s (AHA) red-dress pin given as a thank-you to those donating to its Go Red campaign (focused on women’s heart heath), these products not only give donors something tangible for their gifts, but are something of a badge of honor that gives them social currency with friends and family.

“It’s about awareness building, and strengthening affinity with that cause,” says Anne Erhard, vice president of cause branding and nonprofit marketing for the firm Cone, which developed the Go Red effort. “Within these campaigns are a lot of areas for consumer segmentation,” she adds. Cone has helped the AHA develop several targeted campaigns, including the Power to End Stroke, aimed at African Americans, and Start!, urging physical activity for the general American population. 

For-profit companies both large and small are promoting their cause-marketing efforts through similar strategies. Blue Sky Scrubs, which sells stylish scrubs for female health professionals, announced in mid-September that it would donate a fashionable hospital cap to a cancer patient for every set of scrubs purchased.

“We just recently started promoting this charitable aspect,” says David Marquardt, CEO of Blue Sky Scrubs. “We realized that it was kind of a growing area and we wanted to make as big of an impact as possible.”

The economy has certainly presented challenges for the nonprofit sector, but it remains a major user of promotional products. Organizations like Autism Speaks offer full online stores that not only offer ways to donate and support the cause, but segment their messages for the time of year (Autism Speaks recently targeted its message around a back-to-school theme).

Indicative of the growing significance of marketing in the nonprofit sector, the American Marketing Association recently hosted its first Senior Nonprofit Marketers' Summit in Chicago, bringing together 18 top executives from American Red Cross, AARP, United Way, American Lung Association and others to discuss strategies.

“The nonprofit sector has always been a vibrant, but not always well-recognized, marketing sector,” says Cynthia Currence, chair of the conference. “If ever there was a time to use all the levers that are available, it’s now, and marketing has been a perennially underused function for these organizations.”

But while these marketing areas are growing, charitable events remain a mainstay for nonprofits seeking to strengthen their appeal. “Events are the most traditional outlets nonprofits use for promotional items, but the ways they are using them are changing,” says Erhard. “Now you find sophisticated pop-up stores, rather than just a T-shirt. Also goodie bags at the end of the event, and promotional tents co-sponsored with corporate sponsors, with co-branded items and products and sampling.”

QR Code Drives PSA Campaign

The QR code has become a popular choice of late, and it was instrumental to the success of a recent campaign from the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) aimed at trying to get people to stop texting while driving.

To keep drivers’ hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, MDX embarked on a national awareness campaign that would communicate the true danger of texting while driving and try to increase awareness enough to create a law banning texting and driving. Instead of taking the gory, shocking route, MDX chose to connect emotionally with drivers, showing the damage that can be done to those left behind.

MDX teamed up with Ronin Advertising Group to produce a short film entitled The Last Word, which is about the aftermath for families of victims of texting while driving. Ronin also developed a comprehensive communications strategy, including extensive social media outreach, the creation of industry partnerships and a consistent presence at local and national events.

One unique component of the campaign was the use of T-shirts with QR codes to get the message out. When scanned with a smartphone, the QR code brought a user directly to the film/website. In all, 10,000 T-shirts were distributed at key events, including the Miami-Dade College graduation, as a gift to all new graduates in a bag labeled “this bag will save your life.”

The students received the shirt and gift bag after they signed a pledge to not text and drive, with a branded mini Sharpie keychain that they were also able to keep as a reminder. “We created the shirts because we wanted the students to watch the film and pass it on to their family and friends, but knew that the venue where we would have the most access to them was not necessarily the best one for them to interact with the film,” says Karen Ableman, president of Ronin Advertising Group.

Ableman recognized that the audience was interested in and familiar with new technology. “We provided them with a piece that they could keep and easily scan at any time and be taken directly to The Last Word, which they could watch on their mobile device – a particularly poignant way of receiving the message, considering it is about texting and driving,” she says.

In addition to T-shirts, Ronin developed a postcard with a QR code that was launched at the Miami Corporate Run in order to continue the buzz and further convey the message.

To date, there have been more than 30,000 views of the film on YouTube. There has been extensive media coverage of the campaign, as well as a highly active Facebook page and positive feedback from other companies and individuals looking to join in supporting the cause.

Promotional Products

The most significant findings of the impressions study show advertising specialties are less expensive per impression than most other media and are very affordable and effective when compared to other forms of media.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Cost per Impression. In the U.S., the cost per impression of a promotional product stayed virtually the same from 2008 to 2010, at .005 cents.
  • Identifying the Advertiser. Eighty-three percent in the U.S. say they can identify the advertiser on a promotional item they own.
  • Product Usage. Bags have the highest number of impressions in a month, over 1,000, and over one-third (36%) of those with incomes under $50,000 own bags.
  • Gender Preferences. Males are more likely than females to own shirts and caps, while females are more likely to have bags, writing instruments, calendars and health and safety products.
  • Ethnic Preferences. African Americans have more promotional products on average (11.3) than any other group.
  • Positive Reinforcement. Seventy-five percent of independent voters prefer consumer-branded products; nearly 1.5 times more than Democrats or Republicans.
  • Influencing User Opinions. Forty-one percent of U.S. respondents say their opinion of the advertiser is more favorable after receiving a promotional product.
  • Global Reach. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents from Great Britain have received and kept a pen in the last 12 months. In the U.S., writing instruments are used the most often, an average of 18.2 times per month.
  • Superior Pass Along. After receiving a promotional product they don’t plan to keep, nearly two-thirds (62%) of respondents in the U.S. say they give the item to someone else.
  • Popular Products. The most commonly owned promotional products among U.S. respondents are writing instruments (46%), followed by shirts (38%) and calendars (24%).

At $0.005, the average cost-per-impression (CPI) of an advertising specialty item is less than nearly any other media. According to data obtained by ASI the CPI for a national magazine ad is $0.045; for a newspaper ad, $0.029; for a prime-time TV ad, $0.018; for a cable prime-time TV ad, $0.005; for a syndicated daytime TV ad, $0.005; and for a spot radio ad, $0.058.

To complete its research, ASI conducted a total of 3,332 online and in-person surveys, including interviews with businesspeople in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, London, Sydney, Toronto and Montreal metro areas.

The 2.0 study, a follow-up to the definitive 2008 survey, includes new demographic information on politics, ethnicity, gender and age, since knowing the likely recipient of products is paramount for an advertiser. This year, the comprehensive report also adds global markets and includes more products, such as automotive accessories and food.

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