Friday, December 17, 2010

Beware of Empty Cause Marketing Campaigns

Lately, all we hear is the volley back-and-forth of consumers wanting to buy from socially responsible companies and corporations proving they are socially responsible.

According to a study released by Do Good, Do Well LLC, 88% of consumers think companies should meet their business goals, while simultaneously improving the society and the environment; and 83% think companies should support nonprofits and charities with financial contributions.

It just seems like we are surrounded with messages these days about being socially responsible. That got me thinking.  Just when and where did this cause marketing revolution all begin?

So, I did a little digging and discovered that the first cause-related marketing campaign dates back to the time of World War II, with a company known as the New Haven Railroad.

New Haven Railroad was notorious during this time. They were noted for their particularly bad service, which produced so many complaints that the management of the company decided to do something about it. They hired an agency and delivered a directive to them:

"Write an ad that will make everybody who reads it 
feel ashamed to complain about train service."

And, boy, did they deliver.
"The kid in upper 4" ran for the first time in November 1942 as a single insertion in the New York Herald Tribune. Elmer Davis, head of the Office of War Information, ordered that it be run in newspapers across the country. The Pennsylvania Railroad asked for permission to create 300 posters to hang in all their train stations. The text was read on radio stations, pinned on bulletin boards, and enclosed in letters. The ad was used to raise money for the Red Cross, to sell U.S. War Bonds, and to build morale among the rank and file of the U.S. Army. The New Haven Railroad received more than 8,000 letters espousing the virtues of their advertising.

After all this unbelievably positive publicity, what was the result?  Well, New Haven Railroad noticed a blip in sales as people clamored to get on the train (both literally and figuratively) to support World War II soldiers.

Then, the hub bub died down. New Haven's bad service continued. Consumers learned that taking a train ride on New Haven wasn't such a great experience. And the railroad went under.

It just goes to show that great advertising can stimulate trial, but it certainly can't generate repeat purchases if the product is not worthy.

If the product is a dog, it's a dog.

So, beware of all the cause marketing going on these days. Make sure that you're buying for all the right reasons.

P.S. If you are curious what the ad said, here's the copy:

It is 3:42 a.m. on a troop train.
Men wrapped in blankets are breathing heavily.
Two in every lower berth. One in every upper.
This is no ordinary trip. 
It may be their last in the U.S.A. till the end of the war.
Tomorrow they will be on the high seas.
One is wide awake ... listening ... staring into the blackness.
It is the kid in Upper 4.

Tonight, he knows, he is leaving behind a lot of little things - and big ones.
The taste of hamburgers and pop ... 

the feel of driving a roadster over a six-lane highway... 
a dog named Shucks, or Spot, or Barnacle Bill.
The pretty girl who writes so often ... 

that gray-haired man, so proud and awkward at the station ... 
the mother who knit the socks he'll wear soon.
Tonight he's thinking them over.
There's a lump in his throat. 

And maybe - a tear fills his eye. 
It doesn't matter, Kid. 
Nobody will see ... it's too dark.

A couple of thousand miles away, where he's going, 

they don't know him very well.
But people all over the world are waiting, praying for him to come.
And he will come, this kid in Upper 4.
With new hope, peace and freedom for a tired, bleeding world.

Next time you are on the train, remember the kid in Upper 4.
If you have to stand
enroute - it is so he may have a seat.
If there is no berth for you - it is so that he may sleep.
If you have to wait for a seat in the diner - 

it is so he ... and thousands like him ... 
may have a meal they won't forget in the days to come.
For to treat him as our most honored guest 

is the least we can do to pay a mighty debt of gratitude.

The New Haven R.R.

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