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December 18, 2002
Book Review: Cause Marketing
    by William Baue

A new look at an increasingly used marketing angle may provide lessons for social investors.

In the preface to his book, Cause Marketing: Build Your Image and Bottom Line Through Socially Responsible Partnerships, Programs, and Events, Joe Marconi identifies his primary audience as marketing professionals and senior-level corporate managers. This makes sense in light of the author's definition of cause-related marketing, or cause marketing for short.

"Cause marketing is the action through which a company, a nonprofit organization, or a similar entity markets an image, a product, a service, or a message for mutual benefit [of the entity and the cause]," writes Mr. Marconi in the first-chapter definition of the titular term.

However, his book could have a much wider audience. For example, the book should be of primary interest to the socially responsible investment (SRI) community for several reasons. First, SRI mutual funds may be sold from a cause marketing angle since SRI funds link a financial investment to social and environmental goals. Second, social investors are likely to be interested in the types of companies that conduct cause marketing. This book could help social investors discern what constitutes effective cause marketing, thereby helping them better estimate a company's future performance.

While the book is chock full of advice on how to conduct cause marketing most effectively, its advice on what not to do may be even more helpful. Mr. Marconi best demonstrates this point when he discusses how important it is that the company fit the cause it intends to support. Consumers and critics are keen at spotting manipulative cause marketing which does not correspond with the values a company exhibits in its other actions and communications. Mr. Marconi's wisdom on what tactics to avoid is also evident in the chapter he devotes to September 11, 2001. September 11 inspired many appropriate cause marketing campaigns but also prompted some blatant opportunism.

Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), an organization comprising companies that promote corporate social responsibility (CSR), provided support for the book. Unsurprisingly, member companies such as Ben & Jerry's and Tom's of Maine are profiled in the book and serve as positive examples of effective cause marketing. A cynical reader might wonder whether such an affiliation might hamper the author's ability to objectively assess these companies' efforts, just as Mr. Marconi points out that consumers may question how committed a company is to a cause that is helping sell its products. (It should be noted that not all companies profiled are BSR members, and that SRI World Group, which operates the website, is a BSR member.)

That said, the real value of this book lies in the detailed descriptions it gives of relevant examples. The bulk of the book consists of case studies that consider not only successful cause marketing campaigns but also campaigns that fell on their faces. In fact, the casebook starts with a discussion of how Philip Morris (ticker: MO) attempted to portray itself in a positive light by "writing checks" to Meals-on-Wheels and the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund.

"That a Philip Morris spokesperson would tell the Wall Street Journal the company believed it was 'viewed as changing for the better and being more socially responsible' is a pathetic example of a company out of touch with public sentiment, refusing to see what everyone else seemed to: a totally transparent attempt to portray a giant tobacco company as good guys who were perhaps just misunderstood. Uh-huh," writes Mr. Marconi.

This last comment exemplifies the conversational tone of the writing, which makes for enjoyable reading. Mr. Marconi proceeds to list numerous strategies Philip Morris could have employed that might have convinced cynical consumers that the tobacco company was not simply trying to bamboozle the public. The majority of the case studies do not require such alternative suggestions, as the campaigns themselves exemplify successful cause marketing.

As the value of brand image, corporate reputation, and other intangible assets has become better understood, the importance of cause marketing has become accentuated. Social investors stand to gain from a better understanding of cause marketing because that understanding could help them better evaluate whether a company is doing an effective job in differentiating itself.

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