Introducing “WHAT GIVES?”— When Cause Marketing Gets It Wrong (and how we’d make it right)

If you follow Media Cause on LinkedIn or on our blog, you’ve noticed that while we work primarily with nonprofits, we’re also deeply invested in the ever-changing world of Cause Marketing. It’s a critical component of the social impact space in which we live, breathe, and work—and it’s an important avenue for NPOs to consider because of the awareness, engagement, and revenue that partnering with a brand can deliver. 

  • Earlier this year, our co-founder, Eric Facas, and VP of Brand and Creative, Amy Small, shared their thoughts on the uber-controversial Gillette Toxic Masculinity ad. Which, BTW, P&G dumped after a net loss of 5.34B following the campaign. (Was it a direct correlation? Just like the number of licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.) 
  • Amy often posts her own unsanctioned cause marketing commentary on her personal LI feed. 
  • Media Cause hosted 4 part webinar series on Cause Marketing with AIMA, the Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association– check out the first episode: Cause Marketing 101.

Long story short: we believe cause marketing matters. But it only matters in a GOOD way when it makes an impact.


Thanks to the diverse backgrounds of everyone on our team, and a variety of folks bringing both brand and nonprofit marketing experience to the table, we’ve got a formula for this that’s pretty simple: 

Intent + Approach = Impact

Doing it for the right reasons + doing it the right way = tangible social and business results

What’s “right” and what’s not, you ask? Well, go back up to that link a few paragraphs ago and watch the AIMA webinar if you just neeeeeeed to know now, or stay tuned for a future post here where we’ll dive in with a little more detail (gotta keep you coming back for something, right?!).

But this morning, there’s a very specific point to all this rambling: we wanted to share a recent example of Cause Marketing done not-so-right that just popped up in our IG feed and use this to kick off our new post series, WHAT GIVES? 

(Non-paid endorsement: if you’re not already following @katch_phrases or @3percentconf on IG, go check ’em out.)

The WHAT GIVES? Suspect: The Cadbury “Unity Bar”

The Intent: To “send a message” 

Explanation via this article: To celebrate India’s Independence Day on August 15, Cadbury U.K. and global advertising agency Ogilvy united to craft a stunning, limited-edited chocolate bar with four different types of chocolate.

The Unity Bar, as they titled it, includes white, milk, blended, and dark chocolates and wasn’t just supposed to be sweet: it’s supposed to send a strong message about racism and class divisions in modern society….representing an inclusive India that is not divided by the caste system, a longstanding social and religious hierarchy that segregated people based on race and class. 

The Approach: Limited-edition product + advertising

Cadbury makes chocolate, so yes, it’s logical that they would try to send a message about unity and inclusivity by creating a visually representative chocolate bar. BUT (there’s always a but):

  • Why is Cadbury jumping on the inclusion bandwagon now? Is it something that’s being addressed anywhere else in their company through hiring practices, advertising representation, etc? 
  • Have they partnered with any orgs in this space? 
  • Are the proceeds from the bar’s sales going to help any specific efforts? 
  • What’s their actual goal for this thing?

The Impact: Confusion…and not much else

The effort started a fair amount of conversation on social, but most of it was about the execution and effectiveness of the idea itself, not about the deeper social issue they were purporting to address. It’s doubtful that the brand will see any kind of meaningful lift in perception or awareness through this, and since there was no tie-in to an org, there’s no tangible social impact to be able to measure.

SO WHAT GIVES? And what could they have done differently to get it right?

The Unity Bar is a classic example of opportunistic cause marketing—brands doing something “special” for a designated social holiday, thinking they’ve solved all the world’s problems, patting themselves on the back, and then walking away. 

If Cadbury really wanted to make an impact, and you know, was working with Media Cause to make it happen, here are a few things we might have suggested:

  • Make sure this isn’t a one-off stunt. Think about how it aligns with your brand values and long-term goals.
  • Partner with an NPO in India working on this issue, give a portion of the sales of each bar to the org, and establish an ongoing relationship to continue supporting their mission beyond one designated calendar day.
  • Invite some local influencers to help spark conversation instead of just relying on your own channels and earned coverage. Messages from real, relatable people resonate louder than messages from brands.
  • Leverage the power of social to get your consumers involved. You can’t just talk to them, you have to engage in a dialogue WITH them. Prompt them to share what a more united India looks like to them.
  • Get Flipkart (the retailer selling the Unity Bar) to kick-in additional funding to orgs for every post or hashtag shared.

If you made it to the end of this lengthy Monday afternoon post, first of all, thank you. 

You deserve some cake.

Second, we hope it was a thought provoking way to start your week, and that you’ll stay tuned for more of our POV on the Cause Marketing space. 

We also invite you to share other campaigns with us that maybe left you scratching your head about the intent, the approach, or the impact. Because whenever you’re wondering WHAT GIVES? in Cause Marketing, we’ll help you get to the bottom of it.

To cover your Cause Marketing need-to-knows, check out our Cause Marketing 101 webinar!


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