The Hidden Costs of Cause Marketing

From pink ribbons to Product Red, cause marketing adroitly serves two masters, earning profits for corporations while raising funds for charities. Yet the short-term benefits of cause marketing—also known as consumption philanthropy—belie its long-term costs. These hidden costs include individualizing solutions to collective problems; replacing virtuous action with mindless buying; and hiding how markets create many social problems in the first place. Consumption philanthropy is therefore unsuited to create real social change.

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Really interesting article.


Really interesting article. I don't agree that cause marketing is unprincipled to philanthropy however. I understand that it may not align with the "moral core of philanthropy" but it is a viable way for charities to aggregate funds and spread awareness to a social mission.

While I understand the Komen Foundation-Yoplait example of how cause marketing may lead consumers to improperly prioritize the world's ills, I still think the good outweighs the bad in these types of cause marketing campaigns. The point is that consumers are AWARE of the problem. Not that people may now think that most common type of cancer among women is breast cancer and not heart cancer. I think it's overzealous to think people will willingly research causes to voluntarily donate funds based on the biggest problems affecting our world today. While I would love that to be the case, it's more beneficial for philanthropies to enter into partnerships with corporations to mobilize a message, spread awareness and make some money in the process. And if Komen is doing a better job at this than AHA I don't think that's a vice of cause marketing, it's a reflection of their respective marketing teams.

"When people link their charitable donations to their preexisting consumption decisions, they need not exercise a deeper sense of moral responsibility." I question whether individuals would take philanthropic action even if consumption philanthropy wasn't at play. It strikes me as too idealistic to assume that consumer's have an innate desire to donate their money to charities that is being satisfied by purchasing bracelets made by Ugandan women and endangered species chocolate at their local New Seasons.

Fighting back and forth with myself on the issue, I understand the pitfalls of some consumption philanthropy ("pink ribbon products: labels on the outside that promote breast cancer awareness and research, but chemicals on the inside that cause the disease in the first place"). That being said, the benefits of cause marketing include generating funds to charities that ALLOW them to do great work in the world. I think the benefits outweigh the vices associated with cause marketing. The task at hand is how to evolve fund raising so that it's more dynamic than simply asking people for money, which everyone has become fatigued by. Cause marketing is a step in that direction. How do we innovate cause marketing so that it implores consumer's to give back further than what they've donated via their grocery list?