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Learn from Their Mistakes: Cause Marketing Gone Wrong

Throughout the year – and particularly during the holiday season – businesses that utilize marketing efforts for the betterment of a community can make a huge difference.  They have a large reach and can raise potentially unlimited awareness and funds.

Be warned, it’s important to recognize how the smallest detail – tweet, word choice, etc. – can have large implications.  Before jumping into any potential charity work and combining it with your marketing department, be sure to check out every aspect, then double check the big picture.  Here are a few examples of cause marketing gone wrong.

Bing and Japan Relief

In 2011, following the horrific tsunami that devastated Japan, Microsoft launched a campaign to help out the victims. The problem arose when they tried to gain free advertising by exchanging donations for retweets.  Microsoft offered to give $1 for every retweet of their #SupportJapan tweet, which contained a link to their website. They offered to give up to $100,000.

A lot people were upset that Microsoft offered up only $100,000. Could they have offered more?  I’m sure they could have, but I personally believe any amount is great. That’s the point of charity work, any amount helps. The bigger issue came with Microsoft saying they would only donate for retweets.  To all the marketing departments out there: do not do this.

These tweets paint a picture of an intense bank hold-up scene from a heist movie.  It’s as if there are a bunch of $1 bills stacked neatly and the Microsoft marketing department is there with guns saying, “We’re not letting the hostages go until we get the tweets.  ALL THE TWEETS!  And a helicopter, we want that too!”

You would think a PR fiasco such as this would have far reaching implications with other companies. But then…

Kellogg’s and Hungry Children

More than two years later Kellogg’s committed the exact same mistake.  Now, Kellogg’s and Bing are giant brands with access to millions of dollars’ worth of market research and advertising studies.  Not one single person in their marketing department saw or heard about Microsoft’s mistake?

Kellogg’s said it would feed one child for every Retweet. “1 RT = 1 breakfast for a vulnerable child,” was posted on their official British Twitter account.  Not the classiest of moves there. It was quickly deleted and followed with an apology.

Kellogg’s said it was doing it to promote awareness and they wanted to help.  They were going to assist schools in needy areas with their breakfast clubs.  They probably should have stated that first, but either way, this isn’t the greatest image for a company trying to promote awareness.

“Have some Frosted Flakes.  THEY’RE GRRRREAT!  Oh, but wait, we didn’t get enough retweets, I’ll be taking that bowl of cereal back.”  I can just picture Tony the Tiger walking into a school and letting the kids know, not all of them will be eating today.  Maybe tomorrow though, we’ll have to check Twitter.

KFC and Juvenile Diabetes

Not everything cause marketing mistake takes place in the Twittersphere.  Sometimes, companies are just dumb in traditional marketing, take KFC for instance.  In 2011, they announced a campaign that was meant to promote awareness and prevent diabetes in children. That’s a great cause and should be hard to screw up. Everyone likes healthy children.

However, the campaign said for every HALF-GALLON soda (please take note of the size) purchased at $2.99, one dollar would go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.


Pro-tip: if you’re going to try and help kids lower their glucose levels, it’s probably better if your campaign doesn’t revolve around an 800 calorie soda, with 56 spoonfuls of sugar.

The real problem I have is with JDRF. Did someone really not put two and two together on this one? If JDRF wanted to stay on-brand, the campaign could have been “For every customer that replaces their sugary soda with a bottle of water, KFC will donate X percentage to fighting diabetes.”

Watch and Learn

Cause marketing can be a great thing, it really can, but it also needs to be handled delicately. In most instances, I would recommend your company undertake the cause without forcing consumers to do something, THEN advertise your efforts in a community. Most importantly, make sure several people lay eyes on the campaign and plan the worst case reactions before creating and launching it.

About the author

Dylan Adams