doctors walking through hall

“WHAT GIVES?”: If a Cause Marketing effort launches but no one really understands it, does it make an impact?

If you live on our planet and consume any kind of media, digital or otherwise, you probably know what the Coronavirus is, and the massive panic it’s been causing around the globe. 

But do you know what COVID-19 is?

Nope, I didn’t either, until I Googled it. Turns out that it’s the World Health Organization’s official name for Coronavirus. Which makes sense, because medical classifications follow a different set of rules and regulations for communication. But since 99% of the world’s population are not highly-specialized health officials, this recent relief-related effort from Western Union asking for COVID-19 support struck me not only as a little odd but also, as a lot unrelatable. For a variety of reasons.



According to this article, Western Union has launched a $1M matching campaign to provide funds to organizations in China, and other severely affected countries, to help with on the ground relief efforts, including the purchase of supplies, equipment, and frontline medical treatment. That’s an incredible gesture with the potential to make a huge impact, from a brand that truly has global visibility and reach.

But…the campaign, or rather, the single tentpole image (it was all I could find related to this effort), doesn’t communicate any of what could make this initiative successful, or how consumers can actively get involved. 

What is it trying to communicate? Who is it appealing to? What goal are they aiming to reach? What action are they asking a viewer to take? Where should they go to do it? And oh, right, what exactly is COVID-19? 

All of the basic elements of messaging are missing here: the who, what, why, and how. It’s disappointing because the $1M in aid ($500,000 from donations, $500,000 in matching funds) that WU is pledging could go a long way toward helping on the ground relief efforts, but without any kind of clear messaging, this effort will likely fall short of its goal.


What gives? And what could they have done better?


Every one of us is bombarded by a thousand messages a day — from brands, from people, from orgs — all asking for our attention, some asking for our loyalty, others asking for our money. So establishing a clear human connection is critical in order to get anyone to listen.

While the clean, illustrated visual is a nice departure from seeing sick or forlorn faces that so many relief efforts employ, this particular execution is also missing the element of humanity that makes those tactics work. The copy speaks in abstract terms — hearts and masks — not people and families, communities and cultures. And most importantly, the call-to-action is, well, missing a call to action. Had they included some concrete ways to get involved–according to the article, through the Western Union Foundation Donation Platform and their mobile app–there would be a clear path to engage and learn more. Even a nod to their $1M goal would have gone a long way toward driving interest and engagement. 

Western Union, if you’re out there and happen to read this, we’d love to help you make this campaign more effective. And for all other brands out here thinking about your own cause marketing efforts, make sure you think about the message as much as the mission — because if no one understands what you’re trying to achieve, it’ll be that much harder to actually achieve it.


Related Posts