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 target this group without considering their drive for societal improvement. With the current

political climate of resistance-activism and social justice, it shouldn't be a surprise that more companies are diving into cause engagement to sell their products and services. But the strategy 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 were immediate and brutal and reflected badly on PepsiCo.

But it doesn’t stop there. This past June, numerous companies advertised in conjunction with LGBT Pride Month. Rainbows were everywhere, on French fry boxes, chip bags, sneakers, sodas, etc. The visibility was nice, but it left consumers with questions: Were companies sincere in their support for pride? Or were they just taking advantage of the movement’s popularity? Critics of pride-themed advertising say the attempt seemed forced, and they 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 examined how millennials tend to block out traditional advertising; resonate more with companies who practice corporate social responsibility; and 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 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 in 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, 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 very socially aware,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 cause-marketing campaigns that have effectively targeted millennials are Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, where the company works to  change who and what are 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 in effectively communicating 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.