by Marion Nestle
Jun 20 2011

More fun with cause marketing

My post last week about KFC, Pepsi, and cause marketing elicited a lively dicussion along with some further examples.

Ken Leebow of “Feed Your Head” sent this one along with a comment: “Don’t pollute the Earth, but your body: Go for it!”




















Cara Wilking of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) sent this one: Give blood, eat a Whopper.  Cara, by the way, has done her own piece on why organizations that care about health should avoid partnerships with soft drink companies.











And Lisa Young sent a note about Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of continuing professional education credits for dietitians, for a course about bone health.  On that same site, if you pledge to, Coke’s Sprite Zero will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society.

For those of you who insist that these kinds of partnerships raise money for Good Causes, please consider whether soft drinks are good for bone health or whether artificial sweeteners are good for cancer prevention.  The answers may not be in, but the questions are worth asking.

Cause marketing, I submit, is much more about the marketing than it is about the cause.,0,5581063.graphicCar
  • Anthro

    Cause marketing, I submit, is much more about the marketing than it is about the cause.

    I completely agree. I also think that some of the people make a case for charitable organizations desperately trying to raise money to help ill and sometimes desperate people, often children. It’s tough to tell them to do without the contributions that go for research. I guess my argument would end up being that they should be fighting for a strong government research presence. As things are privatized, they are concomitantly commercialized. Why isn’t the government seeking a cure for Juvenile Diabetes? Why must parents of children with Type I go begging for money from corporations who contribute to Type II? It’s a terrible paradox. Again, I must point out that these corporations exist to return profits to those of you who own stock in them–think about it.

  • Subvert

    You have to destroy the earth and all humanity to save it…ironic, no?

  • Charlie L

    Anthro- I suspect that one reason why government doesn’t spend more money seeking a cure for juvenile diabetes is that it would interfere with commercial interests trying to patent that cure or treatment.

    Ms. Nestle- I think the counter-argument can be made that 1.) No one forces anyone to buy food from KFC, 2.) People can donate to JDRF on their own without buying any KFC, and 3.) Type I diabetes research via JDRF is better now than it would have been had KFC decided not to do this kind of cause marketing at all–why look a gift horse in the mouth?

    Though it will be interesting to see if KFC revenues actually increase due to this kind of cause marketing for juvenile Type I diabetes. My guess is that it won’t be that substantial since juvenile type I diabetes is not as popular of a cause than, say, breast cancer.

  • Cathy Richards

    @Charlie L — and I would argue that the better KFC does, the more money we’ll need to raise for diabetes research/treatment.
    KFC wouldn’t advertise if advertising didn’t work. So any “cause marketing” promotes both the cause and the product.

    If the KFC franchise owner was truly altruistic, they would just pay for an ad for JDRF and not put their logo on the ad. They would not tie in any of their products with the ad.

    To tie in SSB with this ad was…oh heck I won’t say because I’m trying to not call people names. But the franchise owner did it to further his/her cause and his/her sense of community contribution, while benefiting his/her business using the product that would have the lowest cost to the business and at the same time getting a tax write-off for either decreased revenue due to advertising costs or a charitable donation!! Bet he got a bunch of free radio and tv spots too thanks to this via the JDRF. Short-sighted, counter-intuitive to the cause supposedly being promoted. Those are the nicest adjectives I can think of.

  • Even though I wrote critically of the KFC/JDRF, there are many good examples of cause marketing. You can visit my blog,, for lots of great examples. Another great resource is CMF just had its annual conference in Chicago and awarded “Halo Awards” for the best in cause marketing. Yes, they do exist!

    It’s more accurate to say that cause marketing is about MORE than causes. Cause marketing is a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit. It’s win-win. Sure, the company wants to help the cause, but it also wants to share its social values with consumers–something consumers have said is a must to earn their trust.

    Cause marketing is not a standalone strategy. Alone it looks a bit too self-serving. But combined with the links of other types of corporate giving, cause marketing makes a company’s giving strong and unbreakable.


  • MYoung

    my favorite cause marketing in the most general sense is when u r at the checkout and can but a cutout of a shoe, a heart or other symbol for a dollar and put ur name on it. i’m shopping local, and that store is matching dollar for dollar. the store gets publicity we get dollars out there. that is good cause marketing. imho we need more of that type less of the food type.

  • We run road races.
    Free food at the end of a (healthy) race is often manufactured junk (unhealthy) snacks.
    We are still offered Pearson’s salted nut rolls that contain partially hydrogenated fats.

    PS… Looks like the manufactures are getting nervous about folks substituting whole fruit for their junk food.
    I have recently seen warnings to limit fruit to 3 fruits a day.
    No such warning followed about limiting sweet rolls, doughnuts, buns, etc.

  • Thiago

    Dear Marion,

    few weeks ago, Brazil was stunned by McDonald’s and the Health Ministery’s partnership. The company became a “Friend of Health”, as you can see at this photo (unfortunately, I’m not able to send pics from here):

    On the left, the brazilian health minister, Mr. Alexandre Rocha Santos Padilha, together with the Mc executive, both holding that Mc sheet which covers the tray (don’t know the proper name of it), plenty with “health advices”. Most of you might not know portuguese, wich is good in this case, because it prevents you from reading it, but take a close look at the right bottom of the sheet, you will see the Health Ministery official website, here:

    The mobilization against this partnership was immediate, with many iniciatives from the society and health organizations, such as the open letter sent from professors Carlos Augusto Monteiro, Cesar Gomes Victora and Malaquias Batista Filho to the minister in order to make him reconsider this incoherent situation.

    As you can see, here as there, tha band is playing the same song…

  • Charlie L

    @MNSunshine- A couple months ago, I had a follow-up visit with my doctor and while waiting in the waiting area I noticed an advertisement that Papa John’s was hosting a community health fair in town, offering coupons for free breadsticks to boot. I wish I had taken a picture with my cell phone then: THAT had to have taken the cake as far as cause marketing fails, even moreso than KFC’s gesture to JDRF.

    @Cathy Richards- I agree that it’s difficult to find that 100% altruistic rich individual or corporation. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that such a person or corporation would remain anonymous if truly 100% altruistic so no one would ever find out.

    Of course, if I were in the parent’s position to help a charity that benefits my young child via my business connections, I would do it in a heartbeat as well. Short-sighted of him/her? Perhaps. But completely understandable in my opinion.

  • Anthro

    Good discussion! A difficult question in our Corporations’s First culture.

    @ Subvert

    No, just humanity has to go–the planet then can recover.

  • Sebastian Goodsense

    Anthro: “…just humanity has to go…”

    OK, you first.

  • mae

    In Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s Deli founded Food Gatherers, which at first (1990s) was a charity that collects surplus food and distributes it to the needy, but has grown into a major food bank and distribution organization. Zingermans still promotes the org, gives it money, and receives public credit. I think it was a truly generous act and continues to be so, not a marketing-driven gimmick like most of the others. Maybe the major difference is that the donations were large (some in-kind, some $$) and significant — not just a token that actually came from customers.

  • Mary Hartley, RD

    Once, I saw a huge, dancing Dunkin’ Donuts cup sponsoring a Blue Cross Wellness Walk.

  • Joe

    To all the would be purists why not have public health officials fund all of these research projects? Put your money where your mouth is and drive the food companies out of the business of such things.

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