Can Cause-Based Marketing Go Too Far? Oh Yes.

Have you seen the latest campaign by P&G? Buy our product and we’ll give one day of clean drinking water to those in need?

It took me a while to figure out why it made me cringe. On the outset, it just looks like another company wanting to help. But the messaging is what makes it so wrong.

Now, remember that I’m a marketer. I know that connecting a product with a worthy cause increases sales. I know. But there are some campaigns that make me itch. And now I know why…

I find it immoral to link the consuming of a product to helping people.

But, let me explain. This is why it took so long for me to understand what exactly made me itch. There is a subtlety here and it is what makes the difference.

I think that it’s great when corporations or for-profit companies give up some of their profits to help people. Love it. Will go out of my way to support their company kind of love it.

What I don’t love is implying that if you don’t buy their product, those people won’t receive the life saving help the company is offering. What P&G is saying in their ad — whether or not it’s true — is that they’re only giving clean drinking water out for free if you’re buying their products.

Did P&G have a tough year last year? Did they not make a profit off of the stuff I bought before the campaign started? Is there not any left over to help poor, drinking water-less people from the billions of dollars they’ve already collected?

Why not celebrate their customers by giving away the packets that clean the drinking water because they have a loyal community of customers? We’re doing this because you’re so great! We’re in a position to help millions of people drink clean water because of you!

Instead, they’ve chosen to immorally — in my opinion — connect their willingness to help others on your (and my) willingness to buy their products. I won’t even begin to talk about how their full-of-chemical products are probably contributing to the degradation of drinking water quality closer to home. That’s something for my other blog, but this is a lesson in messaging for any business owner who wants to link their business with a cause.

Do it. It’s a great opportunity. But, do it to truly help that cause. Do it because you believe in that cause and because it is compatible with your company’s basic ethics. And, yes, talk about it. But do not — I’m begging you — imply that you’re only contributing if customers buy, buy, buy. That is where I start to itch.