Cause Marketing in the Millennial Age

Cause Marketing in the Millennial Age

If you’re looking to market to millennials, cause-based marketing (or cause marketing) should be at the top of your list. You can’t focus on marketing to millennials without considering their drive for societal improvement. With the current

political climate of resistance-activism and social justice with millennials, it shouldn't be a surprise that more companies are diving into cause engagement to sell their products and services. But it isn't always received as positively as hoped. For example, the PR disaster that was the 2017 Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad was labeled as “tone deaf” and “insensitive” for its depiction of the model Kendall Jenner turning a heated protest into a loving one after handing a police officer a Pepsi. Internet backlash and criticism from millennials was immediate and brutal and looked bad on PepsiCo.

But it doesn’t stop there. Numerous companies used LGBT Pride Month, this past June, to advertise as well. Rainbows were everywhere. French fry boxes, chip bags, sneakers, sodas, and many other products. The visibility was nice, but it still left consumers with questions… are companies sincere in their support for pride or are they just taking advantage of popular opportunity? Critics of pride-themed advertising have said the attempt seems forced and ask companies “where were you before our community was widely accepted?”

 From our blog series on millennials (The Millennial Split  and Top 5 Millennial Marketing Myths), we have learned that millennials tend to block out traditional advertising, they resonate more with companies who practice corporate social responsibility, and they appreciate authenticity and transparency. Everything your company does has to be authentic. Millennials largely show their identity through the brands they buy and support, and if you don’t seem like you care, then they won’t either. A company’s intentions may mean well, but the collision between politics and advertising is very uneven terrain, especially in the digital age when a company's “missed mark” can result in viral backlash just seconds after an ad’s release. If you’re going to take a stand, then really take a stand. Research shows that nearly 40% of millennials are more likely to buy a product or service when their purchase supports a cause. Yes, there are risks taking a stand on any social issue, since aligning your company with a cause could alienate some consumers. But, if you want to make an impact and have a message that resonates with the millennial population and walk the fine line between activism and social justice, the payoff for finding a cause your company can support can be worth it. Supporting a cause can also help your brand identity in the public sphere.

Though the majority do not consider themselves activists, millennials are a very socially-aware generation and their interest in other people’s quality of life drives cause engagement. They want brands that embody authenticity, put a priority on

learning, respect and enable sharing, foster success, and are charitable. The biggest lessons to be learned in social-movement marketing to millennials are to personalize, not generalize, and to walk-the-walk, not just talk-the-talk. Be direct about your company’s stance and the message you want to deliver or risk improper coding and implementation of the message you were trying to send.

Some effective cause-marketing campaigns used to target millennials are Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, where the company puts an emphasis on changing who and what is considered beautiful in our society; Jersey Mike’s Month of Giving, which invites customers to stop by their closest Jersey Mike’s to make donations to their local charities; and more recently, the Starbucks initiative to have more eco-friendly products. As you can see, it takes more than just saying that your company cares or slapping a rainbow on a product; your company must be at the forefront of a movement for change or charitable giving in order to grasp millennials’ attention.

 Some measures you can take to ensure your cause-marketing campaigns are effective and properly received by millennial consumers is to invest in outsourcing and consumer testing. Getting as many diverse sets of eyes on an ad before it drops is vital to its success and effective communication of what your brand is trying to convey. By outsourcing your marketing to an agency, you are almost always guaranteed to receive service that is up-to-date on the latest marketing trends without a learning curve. The Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad we previously addressed was created in-house at PepsiCo, and there has been much speculation that an unbiased opinion could have stopped it before its release. It's important to believe in your brand, but internal communications can sometimes turn into an echo chamber of thoughts or ideas that may not align with consumers of your brand. If you're not working with an outside agency on a campaign, it might be a good idea to assign a role of  “critic” to people on the team or hold focus groups to ensure an alternate perspective on your content.

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