The End of Cause Marketing

At the risk of alienating the good work of Simon Sinek and others who have made a massive fortune by convincing CEOs everywhere that they must “begin with why” and have a world-changing MISSION behind their products, allow me to share some solid advice that I have learned in my 30-year-career working with various audiences.

They don’t really care.

Now they WILL lie to brands about caring in surveys and on social media channels—but they actually don’t. (consumers have lied to me for years — I can share many stories)

They sometimes don’t even know they are lying about caring, but when you watch their behavior it’s clear they don’t.

And here is why — People (all people)….pretty much only care about themselves—and their own problems.

Thank you, thank you, you’ve been great — I will be here all week – – tip your bartenders and your waitresses and please use the safety exits located at the rear….

So if people (all human beings) care mainly about themselves (which is not under our control and is an extension of our natural biological self-defense mechanisms), then WHY do so many companies push causes and claim they care about them?

Let’s look at Bud Light — trying to virtue signal, listening to the more progressive marketing ideas from a younger (and in this case dumber) marketing exec who violated the very first rule of marketing — LISTEN to your customers. Bud Light is a poor-tasting, blue-collar beer brand that sprung from my hometown of St. Louis, MO, an area that is simpler in nature and still hangs on tightly to those old-fashioned American Judaeo-Christian morals. That’s who drinks the vast majority of Bud Light (or used to) and so trying to get them to accept something completely apart from that image (a flamboyant transgender spokesperson) cost the brand big-time.  

In my book (Just Stop It), I talk about brands like the Horcruxes in Harry Potter where people actually make the choice to split off a piece of themselves and their identities to align with a company, sports team, product, etc. And the splitting goes both ways. So when the brand does something that makes that image suddenly very UNATTRACTIVE to its customers (aka wrong for them), the customers are going to reject it, boycott it and yes, destroy it. —That’s what happened to Bud Light.

And looking at Target, WOW — they really screwed up in so many ways. First of all, Target (a brand that markets to “families”) aligned themselves with a Satanist to design children’s clothing for the annual Pride Month. Whoa. Now usually, PR or Legal shoots this stuff down LONG before it sees the light of day. But apparently, there were no PR people or lawyers watching this and to date Target has paid a $13 billion price.  They are NOT too big to fail and could easily be driven straight into bankruptcy. For what? Stupid choices win stupid prizes, folks. Business is SO cold and unforgiving (kinda like hell) when you get it wrong.  

Many people have asked me how I would’ve handled Bud Light or Target if it either company was my client.  The simple answer is there would be no crisis in EITHER case because I would have killed both of those ideas in milliseconds. And if that didn’t work, I would just send it to Legal and just patiently wait for the rejection to come from them. (Lawyers LOVE killing things like this even more than I do — Works like a CHARM!). So if Scott’s in charge — no issue, billions saved and both brands remain protected — and THAT is a big part of the job — saving brands from doing really stupid potentially brand-ending kinds of things.

So that should probably do it for social cause-related marketing and I think you will see MUCH less of it because consumers don’t really care (even though they lie about caring) and businesses simply cannot absorb the downside risk of guessing wrong about which causes and ideas its customers will or won’t support.  

But in my opinion (and I’ve told my clients this for many years), the bottom line is that consumers are NOT really looking for brands to make a statement about causes — they simply want the brands they love to do what they do and make 100 percent of their effort all about ME and MY problems. Violate that one at your own risk.